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Notes for a U3A Course held in Sydney, Australia, 2012 (Deals with pages 44-56 (paging refers to Pluhar translation )
Max Deutscher ( Maxwell.firstname.lastname@example.org) Work in progress March 2012
I see how the gum tree in my front garden reaches up, opening space and defining it. I register its beauty, as if for the first time. I overhear some music, scarcely taking it in, and find myself astonished at its beauty, in its unfamiliarity. Reading some pages in Kant, I am surprised by the beauty of a line: ‘The light dove, cleaving in free flight the thin air, whose resistance it feels, might imagine her movement would be more free and rapid in airless space.’ The sense of beauty in the line itself appears to me along with its object of a cautionary tale for philosophers. Beauty appears as a tension between seeming to be given a special understanding of what we see, and of not needing to, not wanting to, perhaps, understand anything beyond what we are tempted to describe as the ‘sheer’ beauty presented to us. Kant represents this feeling: ‘we do not use understanding to refer the presentation to the object so as to [come to know some new fact]. Rather, we use imagination to refer this ‘presentation’ to ‘the subject’. When we describe the beauty of something we look to what happens within. We judge that what we sense is beautiful. This is a judgment of taste, however, not a matter of coming to know some new and special fact about what we sense. Our response ‘This is beautiful’ is a judgment, but it is not a logical conclusion gained from some particularly clever new logical deduction from facts. The response to beauty is not a new fact, and not the reworking of old facts either, if Kant is right. ‘This is beautiful’ is an aesthetic judgment, says Kant. It is largely due to him that ‘aesthetic’ has its present currency. He adds, as a truism, that in consequence the judgment must be subjective. We are inclined to think that this is right, too, partly because it is a common opinion that aesthetic judgments are ‘subjective’, and partly because of our feeling for the word ‘aesthetic’, as having to do with our sensibility. If Kant had said (what he sometimes will say) that judgments of beauty are founded in sensibility, we would certainly find it hard to find any objection. And yet, to say that an aesthetic judgment, a ‘judgment of taste’ as Kant often puts it, is ‘subjective’ has more particular, and yet rather amorphous, implications. As Kant himself did, we continue to contrast the ‘subjective’ with the ‘objective’. We associate the subjective with what is unreliable, imprecise, incapable of proof. We are liable to take it, too, as involving bias, partiality, prejudice and passion. Objectivity, in contrast, is reliable, precise and provable. When we are objective, we are unbiased, impartial, unprejudiced and
we enjoy. with perfect simplicity and directness. They are like the members of a jury who. he means that no interest other than our pleasure in the object itself is involved. But the one who is prepared to respond to beauty is prepared to put such ‘interests’ to one side. if I simply find a house beautiful it is beside the point that I do not own it. We aim at universality. Kant’s other visitor to Paris. we can remind Kant. To find something agreeable is to like it. and nevertheless we make aesthetic judgments. I open myself to objections from others that I am wrong. from other ‘likings’. We are delighted at what is presented and this delight is other than the interest of the collector who 2 . This is not a judgment of taste about the beauty of Paris. ‘Are you delighted at what it presents to you?’ You may not be delighted that the money spent on the building was not spent. or the beauty of the taste of the food itself. then my interest lies in having it. instead. to be sure. who refuses to see beauty in a palace he is shown has an irrelevant ‘interest’. I attempt to explain why others may have overlooked or been insensitive to the beauty that has presented itself to me. a moral quality in the response to beauty.dispassionate. Kant is subject to conflicting forces in dealing with aesthetic judgments. I outline what is beautiful about it. If I am interested in something because I find it agreeable. at least in the sense that they are founded in sensibility (the full and unimpeded responsiveness of our senses). There is. It would be as inappropriate to refuse to consider the beauty of a building because it had been built at very slight expense. swear to come to a judgment that is ‘devoid of all (such) interest’. The first question about beauty is. Kant is next (#3) intent on distinguishing. When Kant writes (#2) that a judgment of taste is ‘devoid of interest’. I do not therefore expect or require that anyone else like it. In contrast. simply a ‘presentation’. But if I declare that something is beautiful. Aesthetic judgments are expressions of taste. I attempt to persuade others that what I sense is beautiful. likes seeing Paris because of an interest in the eating houses. but of the presentation of the food. So the visitor to Paris whom Kant mentions. If I merely like something. to help the poor. In reading Kant. To enjoy the beauty of Paris. Having allowed the ‘subjectivity’ of our aesthetic judgments. The one who enjoys what the restaurants offer might. Perhaps he disapproves of ‘things made to be gaped at’ or has a moral objection to the money spent on the building. sexual orientation of the accused. but my interest in what is agreeable to me is not ‘pure’. therefore. we had better continue to ask whether aesthetic judgments are ‘subjective’ simply in that they involve the subject – they are founded in our sensibility – or whether they have these further features of unreliability. As judgments they lay claim to a certain validity. bias and prejudice. the kind of ‘liking’ that is involved in our response to beauty. whatever their prejudices about the race. imprecision. Kant insists that such ‘interests’ are foreign to a judgment of beauty. as Kant puts it – what it shows of itself to us. still be alive to beauty – not of Paris itself.
as Kant puts it. The point is that the judgment of its beauty is not made relative to the concept ‘flower’. and in the other. A surgeon may take pleasure in their fees. A thing that is a flower and beautiful is still said to be beautiful no matter what the concept under which you place it.wants to own the thing. To judge something as beautiful is to leave open the question of the concept under which we consider it. Kant develops this distinction between what we call beautiful and what we deem to be good. They ought to act ‘devoid of all interest’. or smell a flower. To seek the pleasure of having done the right thing is no longer to act with a purely moral will. So. even though the ‘first moment’ of registering beauty is one of delight. ‘purely’ and simply. Kant likes to say that a moral will and an aesthetic response are each ‘devoid of interest’. For one thing. You might say. 3 . But the principal point is that a moral will has the object of doing what is right. The pleasure of one’s response to beauty cannot be sought or predicted. one is not seeking gratification in hoping to see (or hear. The cost may turn out to be too great. They are ‘pure’. In #4. or in having so successfully exercised their skills. and we have to suffer the consequences. To say that the object is really the gratification of having done what is right is to put the cart before the horse. There is a certain autonomy in the demands that beauty makes upon us. so those concepts are not to be introduced. that is not the point. to operate with all due care. ‘what is right’. primary interest is in what is presented. When we say that something is good. Its use is an irrelevant ‘interest’ in any case. A good butter knife is not a good carving knife. in the one case. beautiful. we sense it as something or other. precision and skill. The distinction is one that Kant has made in earlier works (Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals and Critique of Practical Judgment) between the motive of a moral will and the pleasure one has in doing what is right. This critique does not despise commerce. One might like to put that another way – the moral will and the aesthetic interest are each examples of a ‘pure’ interest. or read) something beautiful. that it is according to the concept ‘flower’ that we have declared it to be beautiful. This ‘purity’ has its place in every proper pursuit. or smell. Their professional duty is. But we are uneasy if we feel that these are their primary motives when they operate. We look at. or taste. Even to like what is good is not to be confused with our response to beauty. but in the sense of being purely directed at. A good burglar is not a good citizen. in contrast. we cannot be sure that we will be happy with having done the right thing. ‘this presentation’. as if to contradict Kant. as Kant puts it. whenever we sense something. not in the sense of something unworldly. it is essential to specify what kind of thing we mean. But to find something beautiful is to take it as it is. but emphasises the irrelevance of ownership or status to one’s sensibility. But although it is true that we have recognised it as a flower. True. or it smells. One’s immediate. and say that it looks.
he proposes that there is a different. a derivative idea that he calls ‘dependent beauty’. If I simply say that I like something in itself. But if I dare to claim that it is beautiful then I am committed to the idea that others should respond to it. Taste seems to be ready to be a broader term than one’s judgment of beauty. Rather. others may. Kant will return constantly to this claim throughout his Critique of the Power of Judgment. which we call ‘good’ (iii) What we simply like for its own sake. for instance. Kant has begun to describe.1 These special interests trivialise the beautiful object and divert interest from it. In #6 he makes a further move. in #5. The object of such a liking is called beautiful. To be agreeable is only to be ‘gratifying’ – this is the distinction that is crucial for Kant. I can admit that they might fail to respond because they are tired. We ‘make do’ with what is merely agreeable.2 Kant says this (p. ‘This is a beautiful example of a pit-bull terrier’ makes no assumption that the speaker finds those animals beautiful. 1 2 If a pit-ball terrier is beautiful it is beautiful in itself rather than as a pit-bull terrier. crucial to his whole inquiry. and attempt to deal with the problems involved in this kind of assertion of universality. as a kind of ‘liking’. also. the response to something as beautiful. has judgment and critique written into it. So. by means of a liking or disliking devoid of all [extraneous] interest.2 Even before we attempt to define the difference and before we examine the details of the difference. or a way of presenting it. He concludes this ‘first moment’ of our experience of beauty by offering a provisional definition of ‘taste’. subtler connection with universality implied in judgments of beauty. on any particular occasion. fail to appreciate it. preoccupied. I am saying nothing about what I expect in the response of others. as beautiful. We relax with agreeable company we are untroubled by and yet less than delighted by agreeable food. we sense the difference between expressing that we find something ‘agreeable’ and judging that it is (downright) beautiful. ‘Taste’. drunk. or prejudiced against the thing in ways irrelevant to its beauty. While admitting (indeed asserting) that to judge something as beautiful has nothing to do with claiming that others find it so. to define more precisely his distinctions between three concerns: (i) What simply pleases us. Then he specifies the particular kind of liking that is involved in judgments of beauty.53): Taste is the ability to judge an object. which is what we call beautiful.Kant will define. 4 . which he calls the ‘agreeable’ (ii) What we esteem in what pleases us. in contrast with this ‘pure beauty’. This is the concept used by those with specialist interests – dog-breeders. in this sense. in the sense of that word when we speak of ‘developing our tastes’. the animal perfectly fits the criteria laid down for that breed. I must try to explain why. It is precisely that trivial diversion that Kant wants to avoid by insisting that we judge what is beautiful in itself by refusing to judge it under any specific concept. ‘beautiful’ and ‘agreeable’ Pages 55-64 No. although what I sense is beautiful. Kant proceeds.
We do not judge that something is agreeable. It is not just a simple brief and uniquely personal sensation or reaction of pleasure. even as we protest (too much) that ‘a child might have done it’ or ‘it is a distortion’ or ‘no-one has both eyes on the same side of their face’. being at odds with everything around and within me. dramatic. Finding a certain kind of sound agreeable is more a function of the moment. coffee is not ‘agreeable’ in the morning. To say this is not to disagree outright with what Kant is saying. But for one. but those of the guests. not just their own immediate tastes. and how their various differing tastes can be co-ordinated to generate interesting rather than merely aggravating conversation. It offers an idea that rouses our thought while displeasing us because of a painful dissonance with our own preferred or accustomed direction. Kant insists. A person who can throw an ‘agreeable’ dinner party is considering.We are diverted but not challenged by an agreeable novel or film. and unpredictable. and not at all to your taste in the evening.) I notice that Kant has some difficulty from the outset in handling the difference between ‘How does it taste?” and ‘Is what you are tasting agreeable?” Trying to catch the simple difference of what each finds pleasing. what challenges us in its difference offers an accustomed taste that ‘we are not yet sure we like’. We go on gazing at it. On another occasion. We might each like the taste of the same tea and the same coffee. Initially. picking holes in the very ideas and arguments with which we agree. simply accommodates the difference with you that coffee is just the thing to start the day. another that of string instruments’. dissonant. The judgment that something is good is. It is at least on the verge of declaring the sound ‘beautiful’. I find the mellifluous tones of a clarinet quintet soothing. to judge that something 5 . In contrast. We find it so because it pleases us without disturbing us with anything that challenges us in its difference. please us. he says ‘One person loves the sound of wind instruments. if only to set something going in the conversation.56) that people come to ‘some agreement’ about what is agreeable. To go so far as to ‘love’ a sound is more than to find it agreeable. a judgment based on what esteem. in the main. It is painful to hear opinions that strongly conflict with our own. Nevertheless. then. Those sounds ‘agree with’ the world and feelings as I find them. as with all these other agreeable things. I am more pleased by Hindemith’s strings. More than that. but. they leave us threateningly close to the abyss of boredom. ‘agreeable’. Kant himself proceeds to make the point (p. (This simple observation then allows us to refine the matter of ‘taste’ and ‘what agrees with one’. in contrast. Kant draws the distinction between ‘It is agreeable’ and ‘It is beautiful’ simply in terms of the relevance of disagreement. to judge that something is agreeable is only to judge what does. It presents to us a painting that we do not understand and yet we find it hard to take our eyes from it. Being exhausted by working through Kant’s complexities. We even react perversely. We are immediately pleased to hear agreeable opinions. That pale tea without milk agrees with me for breakfast and that strong coffee suits better after dinner. and yet it is painful in another way to hear agreeable opinions simply repeated to us.
But they expect themselves and others to come to the same judgment because one’s pleasure or displeasure is beside the point. Kant then argues that to judge something beautiful. But we do not let this disturb our quasi-objective judgments of beauty. In itself. What is judged beautiful is judged worthy of the pleasure we take in how it is presented and how it demands our delighted response. when we agree that judgments of beauty are grounded in the pleasure we take in something. I don’t see how you can miss it if you take the time and pay attention’. problematic. ready to be appreciated from time to time. of course. This is one simple way in which we distinguish the simple immediate factual ‘I am enjoying this’ from the judgment ‘This is beautiful’. As we say. We know that we differ. A detective or a judge may take no pleasure in what is presented as grounds for a judgment – the evidence of some violent killing. though founded in the pleasure we take in it. but points out that. We require others to agree with us about what we have found beautiful (as if it were objective). We make judgments of beauty in response to the delight we take at what something presents. Kant writes this entire extended work. is to judge more than that that most people take that pleasure in it. This all underscores the question why. in our sources of pleasure. There. still we expect others to find that same pleasure. Kant describes the elements in judgments of beauty that stand in such apparent tension with each other. Taking for granted the difference between judging something as beautiful rather than as good. We make judgments of beauty without imposing any concept upon the thing that delights us. Kant opens his next sub-section (#8) with this very question. The nature of this judgment of worthiness. this fact does not establish a peculiar ‘subjectivity’ about judgments of beauty. One knows of oneself that one is not always in the mood to appreciate a certain kind of beauty. You can share your logical or scientific proof of some theory only with someone in the mood to 6 . much loved in the community. from the point of view of judgments of logic or of knowledge. It is the evaluative judgment that we should esteem it. Each person. But this is because the question whether we take pleasure in the premises or the conclusion is beside the point of logic or knowledge. judges that others should find pleasure in the way it presents itself. of the ‘universality of our liking’ (in the case of judging something beautiful) as presenting itself as no more than ‘subjective’. Kant not merely admits.is good is more than the statement that the speaker does esteem it. or even that people generally esteem it. Critique of the Power of Judgment in the effort to describe and understand the possibility of this fusion of subjectivity and a kind of requirement of universal response. this is a strange situation. We think of what we judge to be beautiful as lying there in reserve. we do expect that either others will agree with our conclusions when presented with the same evidence or that they will point out our mistake. That something is good means that it is estimable. constantly. the character of this obliging of us to respond favourably is. They have no wish to judge that the suspect is guilty – a person held in high esteem. in judging that something is beautiful. ‘what is presented just is so beautiful.
having made an expert study of it. not an aesthetic. In logic or science3. too. after presenting something its most favourable light we say. here. our attention is directed to the object. This is because. Nevertheless. Bach’s keyboard works are contrapuntal. But it does seem to me a mis-step for Kant to say that the judgment of beauty does not deal with the object at all. 7 . is all that we try to establish by careful. he says. that those ‘[aesthetic] judgments do not deal with the object [itself] at all’. rather. Someone who has no aesthetic taste in music can make it. The obvious reason is that not every piece of contrapuntal music is beautiful. in responding to a presentation with ‘That’s beautiful’. not distracted. judgment. He or she learns by external observation that certain kinds of music are considered beautiful. Works in that genre can be tedious and trivial – or downright ugly when the voices do not work with and against each other in the right way. Such a one may have no comprehension of the interest that people take in the beauty of music. isn’t that a real source of delight?’ Kant goes so far as to say. I might have no aesthetic understanding of the music of another culture but. we are not claiming to discover some extra fact about it. rather. aren’t you moved to agree that this is the case?’ In aesthetics. an original aesthetic judgment must be particular.. If I could establish aesthetic judgments by reference to concepts. those efforts must take the form of directing the other’s attention to what we find beautiful in it. ‘This is beautiful’ rather than ‘This has the form that most people deemed to have good taste proclaim to be beautiful’. however. so this keyboard work of Bach’s is beautiful’. In aesthetics such a procedure fails. when distinguishing ‘universally valid objective’ judgments of logic and science from aesthetic ones. One judges. is crucial to the aesthetic judgment.59). systematic. This is perhaps the prime reason why we accept the ‘attributive’ form of judgments of beauty (‘That is most beautiful) and not only the expressive ( o-oooh!!) or the descriptive (‘That fills me with pleasure’). our sensibility. There is a more profound objection.reason – sober. after adducing all our relevant considerations we say. ‘So. and having a taste for intellectual issues. Now. recognise the forms that. But how is one to define this ‘right way’? Anyone who would want to defend the idea that we can establish what is beautiful by first defining our concepts would have to show how one can refine the concept ‘contrapuntal music’ to fit everything recognised as ‘beautiful’ contrapuntal music. Kant observes that judgments of beauty are singular (p. That last claim is a sociological. should ‘discover the beauty’ in what we have seen. he says this because. ‘I hold the object directly up to my feeling of pleasure . When we attempt to show to another that they. I could prove a particular aesthetic judgment: ‘Contrapuntal music is beautiful. observation and thought. but without using concepts’. Nevertheless. ‘So. Our responsiveness. But the difference remains. There are some forms of contrapuntal music that most people with good taste in music agree on as being beautiful. I find. people in that culture with a good 3 ‘Science’.
beauty makes us newly alive to our powers of imagination and comprehension. ‘That music is beautiful’.62) Being more than the pleasure of sensation itself. and hence be just as universally communicable as any determinate cognition (p. more exactly. aesthetic pleasure is aroused by a complexity of experience that stirs a new level of enjoyment – what is at work is an interplay of imagination and our capacities to know. so this is a significant step. And yet our pleasure must not come first. As if our judgment of beauty and the communicability of our pleasure must trail afterwards. ‘If we judge objects merely in terms of concepts then we lose all presentation of beauty’ (p. It would be equally impossible. Kant is not contradicting his ‘first moment’ of aesthetic taste.musical reputation deem to be the most beautiful. This connection is already formed within the pleasure that becomes a judgment of beauty. Kant takes this judgment as concerning the communicability of the pleasure that we take in the object. The first moment in a judgment of taste is the pleasure we take in the object. here. What he discovers is a connection of aesthetic pleasure to both the imagination and one’s cognitive powers. 8 . I can judge ‘This is the kind of music deemed beautiful in that culture’ and yet not make the aesthetic judgment. when imagination and understanding are in free play (insofar as they harmonize with each other as required for cognition in general. Kant is saying just that when he writes. He is probing. that our judgment that the pleasure we feel is communicable should itself come before we have even taken pleasure in what we take to be beautiful. This is why the experience of beauty haunts us with the sense of something newly known. Rather. The consideration of this ‘moment’ has occupied Kant during the first eight sections. Kant concludes this part of his discussion by underlining this very distinction: [A] judgment of taste does not postulate everyone’s agreement (since only a logically universal judgment can do that. A judgment of taste originates in our pleasure in the object. Kant argues that if first I felt only simple pleasure then I would proceed to judge only that what I thus find ‘agreeable’ might be found by others to be agreeable. ‘Most people admire this’ is not a judgment of taste. however. And yet we know nothing new about the object when we find it beautiful. There would be nothing to judge as communicable. This is why aesthetic pleasure is special.60). it merely requires this agreement from everyone (p. arises from a pleasure more complex than simple pleasurable tasting: This (subjective) universal communicability can be nothing but [that of our] mental state .59). This is why the judgment. the nature of that ‘pleasure’ within which the judgment of taste arises. originating as it does in our pleasure in what is presented to us. because it can adduce reasons).. What launches my aesthetic judgment of taste (‘This is beautiful’) must be more than the pleasure I take in simple sensation. For we are conscious that this subjective relation suitable for cognition in general must hold just as much for everyone. The judgment of beauty.
Max Deutscher Work in progress March 2012 9 .
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