Kants Idea of Beauty

Immanuel Kant was an 18th century German philosopher who, through his various philosophical works, spent several decades trying to reconcile the concepts between the rationalists and the empiricists who lived before his time. His Critique of Judgment, specifically the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment, has remained one of his monumental works on the investigation of the perception and judgments of beauty. His definition of these judgments may be profound but remain unclear and in many cases inconsistent. The problem perhaps lies in his efforts in proving that such an a posteriori thing as beauty can be known a priori.

Kant If it merely pleases him, he must not call it beautiful. Many things may for him possess charm and agreeableness  no one cares about that but when he puts a thing on a pedestal and calls it beautiful, he demands the same delight from others (Critique of Judgment 7). Critically discuss.

The above statement reflects Kants idea on the universality of judgments of beauty and the private nature of judgments of the agreeable.

The Universality of Judgments of Beauty. Kant shows us in the statement above that when one calls or regards something as beautiful, then it is supposed that he considers it an object of universal delight, which means that he believes that everyone else should find it beautiful too. Kant goes on to say that if it merely pleases the individual, he must not call it beautiful (CJ 7) and that he should call it beautiful only when he thinks everybody would also have the same opinion about its beauty. In short, by regarding something as beautiful, he judges not merely for himself but for all men (CJ 7).
Judgments of Beauty as Instinctual. The aforementioned words of Kant on the universality of judgments of beauty are clear and they speak for themselves. For Kant, the idea of beauty and the judgments associated with it seem to be immutable and eternal, unlike his definition of agreeableness. Kant therefore seems to assume that this seemingly eternal idea of beauty, compared with the seemingly temporal or personal idea of agreeableness, stems from basic human instinct. Instinct as we know is basic and automatic, as opposed to learned ethical behavior. Furthermore, instinct is natural among a certain group of species and some forms of instinct, such as survival, may even transcend the species level and may be shared by larger groups of living things. Kant therefore supposes that the idea and perception of beauty is instinctual, for when he mentions that beauty is an object of universal delight (CJ 7), he does not mention that it depends on age, race, gender or even cultural differences. From this standpoint, one will be led to think that Kant does not exclude any human being who with their obvious impediments will be excluded from the group that can comprehend beauty. For Kant, even the mentally ill can conceive beauty and can be demanded to agree that beauty exists in a particular thing. From this we can partially conclude that Kants statements on beauty lack the practical aspect inherent in other philosophies.

It is true that Kant says that this mere act of an individual saying that the thing is beautiful predicates that he should demand the agreement of everyone else on the existence of such beauty, and not merely count on them to agree with him. He also blames them if they judge differently, and denies them taste.

From the aforementioned statement, we can sense an air of egoism in Kants words. Kant has stated with finality here that beauty is universal and that those who do not know beauty must be more or less condemned. There is however a weakness in this argument and that is the probability that although everyone would agree on the beauty of a particular thing, their judgments of beauty may not be uniform. Therefore, anyone whose judgment falls short of the standard would consequently still be deserving of blame and would be denied taste. However, the so-called standard of judgment of beauty may be as obscure as Kants words himself.

Judgments of Beauty as Willed. In the sections that follow the definition of universality of judgments of beauty, Kant admits this lack of standard for judging beauty in a particular thing when he mentions that there canbe no rule according to which any one is to be compelled to recognize anything as beautiful for it is a matter upon which one declines to allow ones judgment to be swayed by any reason or principles (CJ 8). Kant further states that there can be no objective rule of taste by which what is beautiful may be defined by means of concepts and that for every judgmentthe determining ground is the feeling of the subject and not any concept of an object (CJ 17).

Finally Kant admits in the above statements that there is absolutely no clear basis for the definition of beauty except the mere feeling of the subject. He also implies that the concept of the object, or the so-called thing-in-itself in Kants moral philosophy, just simply cannot be known by human senses. Judgments of beauty are most probably a result of mere effort on the part of the perceiving individual, as deduced from Kants words saying that whether a dress, a house or a flower is beautiful is a matter upon which one declines to allow ones judgment to be swayed by any reason or principles, (CJ 8).  The naturally rational individual is almost always governed by reason and therefore forms judgments of beauty only when he willfully declines to allow his judgment to be swayed by any reason or principles (CJ 8). This rational, artificially-directed process of judging beauty in a particular thing somehow opposes the previous contention that judgment of beauty is instinctual.

Instinctual VS Willed. We have now reached a point where Kant has somehow become inconsistent with his ideas If Kant believes that judgments of beauty are a matter upon which one declines to allow ones judgment to be swayed by reason, (CJ 8), then why does Kant say that the perceiving individual should demand the same delight in others and that he should blame them if they judge differently, and should deny them taste (CJ 7) In short, if Kant assumes that judging beauty requires the intentional, willful disobedience to reason, then why does he expect that everyone will be able to do it by instinct and will deserve blame if they are not able to do so This question is supposed to be rhetorical and more important than the answer to it would be the confusion that Kants ideas has caused in regarding judgments of beauty first as instinctual then as willed.

Lack of Objectivity of Judgments of Beauty. Despite the universality of judgments of beauty, they lack objectivity. It was previously noted that there can be no objective rule of taste by which what is beautiful may be defined by means of concepts (CJ 17) for the determining ground is the feeling of the subject, and not any concept of an object (CJ 17). The main implication of this statement is that judgments of beauty are baseless for they are but mere products of feelings and that they do not speak of the thing-in-itself. Nevertheless, despite this lack of objective rule of taste, judgments of beauty still exist. How then does an individual formulate his judgments of beauty The first part of the answer lies first and foremost on Kants contention that a judgment of beauty is a matter upon which one declines to allow it to be swayed by any reasons or principles (CJ 8). Ones judgments of beauty are therefore produced only with the non-interference of ones reason and principles.

Ideal of the Imagination and the Role of Reason. Following his previous statement that judgments of beauty are totally void of reason and principles, Kant admits that the ideal of the beautiful is bound to be merely an ideal of the imagination (CJ 17). This means that judgments of beauty depend upon the imagination and not upon concepts. However, imagination alone, according to Kant, cannot serve as grounds for a concept of beauty derived a priori. There must be something else other than imagination that make possible an estimate of beauty and that is no other than some idea or reason according to determinate concepts (CJ 17).

According to Kant, it is impossible to exactly determine the beauty of certain things such as that of a residence, a tree and a garden because their ends are not sufficiently defined and fixed by their concept (CJ 17). This act of determining beauty must therefore rest upon mans reason for it is only through this that they can be compared with essential and universal ends and consequently attribute upon them an ideal of beauty, in exactly the same way that man uses reason to determine humanity in his person. Kant then concludes that intelligence alone admits of the ideal of perfection (CJ 17).

Kant further defines the mental process of perception of beauty by saying that the aesthetic normal idea which is an individual intuition of the imagination must first draw upon experience the constituents which it requires for the formof a particular kind (CJ 17) and then it is the rational idea of the judging subject that builds the image of the object. Imagination and reason indeed work hand in hand in determining the form and subsequently the beauty of a thing. Kant also assigns to the imagination the role of recalling examples of a particular object, or reproducing its image and shape from various experiences, while the mind, or reason, is engaged upon comparisons and seeks to arrive at a mean contour which serves as a common standard for all (CJ 17).

From the aforementioned words of Kant, it can now be concluded that imagination and reason are the two things that make possible an individuals perception of an ideal of beauty. The thing-in-itself including its inherent beauty cannot be known and therefore needs only mans imagination to perceive it, but imagination must be necessarily based on reason for reason sets the criteria for the imagination to be able to exactly perceive beauty. This sounds very plausible except for the fact that the idea of the role of reason in determining beauty somehow goes against the previous statement of Kants saying that a judgment of beauty is a matter upon which one declines to allow it to be swayed by any reasons or principles (CJ 8). How can then be a judgment of beauty possible if it should not be swayed by reasons but that it should necessarily be defined by some idea of reason for it to be determined a priori Clearly there is either a problem with semantics here or simply mere illogic. It therefore seems that the only way out of this is for Kant to admit that judgments of beauty are not a priori and will always be a posteriori for they cannot escape the role of empirical evidence or experience as a determining factor. Reason may define the criteria for beauty perceived by the imagination but imagination is still experience and anything perceived by experience cannot be a priori. The only other way to dispel the confusion is to admit that judgments of beauty are neither a priori nor a posteriori, for it is a collective effort of both experience and rational criteria.

The Beautiful Man. Kant uses the human species in the 17th section of the Critique of Judgment in order to illustrate this collective effort of the imaginary and the rational. He then defines the beautiful man by describing him as the average size, which alike in height and breadth is equally removed from the extreme limits of the greatest and smallest statures (CJ 17). The beautiful, according to Kant and somehow alluding to Aristotle, is the average or the middle ground for he contends that this is the result of reason narrowing down the data of raw experience. In short, Kant believes that the beautiful is the normal and the mediocre, and that superlatives are accidents and exaggerations or violations of the normal idea. Genius is therefore but an accident or a departure of nature from its wonted relations of the mental powers in favor of some special one (CJ 17). Kant maintains that this will always be true on the condition that nature in its external form expresses the proportions of the internal (CJ 17). However, a posteriori knowledge will always tell us otherwise.

Kants idea of the average man as the beautiful man, with such a bias towards the average, naturally lends itself to a few criticisms. One of which is the idea that there is no verifiable evidence that reason operates by the rule of averages and that its role is to qualify and classify data superimposing one image after another in order to arrive at a mean contour. In addition, a posteriori evidence also shows us that societies regard as symbols of beauty not the average man or woman but only those endowed with unique aesthetic qualities such as broad shoulders and muscular torsos for the men and curvaceous bodies for the women. The same goes true for things such as houses, countries and flowers.

Let us now go back to Kants words
If it merely pleases him, he must not call it beautiful. Many things may for him possess charm and agreeableness  no one cares about that but when he puts a thing on a pedestal and calls it beautiful, he demands the same delight from others (CJ 7, 212).

Beauty is indeed something that should be shared and should be perceived by the greatest number of people, but there is much confusion surrounding Kants idea of judgments of beauty. Is beauty judged according to instinct or will Are the judgments of beauty a priori or a posteriori Is reason an essential part of a judgment of beauty or is it something that should not be independent of reason Most importantly, is it true, valid and verifiable a priori that the beautiful refers to the average It seems that it would be difficult to demand from all others the delight in the beautiful especially if our very definition of the concept of beauty still lends itself to several imperfections and inconsistencies.

QUESTION NUMBER 2 (please remove this if not needed)
How does Kant distinguish between free and dependent beauty Was Kant completely confused in making this distinction

Two Kinds of Beauty. According to Kant, there are two kinds of beauty One is free beauty, or beauty which is merely dependent which presupposes no concept of what the object should be (CJ 16) and is self-subsisting.  Examples of free beauty include flowers, birds and crustaceans. These beauties are said to represent nothing  no object under a definite concept (CJ 16) and are therefore free of certain expectations. One would say that a bird is beautiful without expecting anything about how a beautiful bird should be for every species of birds is considered beautiful.

The other kind of beauty is dependent beauty, which presupposes such a concept and, with it, an answering perfection of the object (CJ 16) and is also known as conditioned beauty. Examples of dependent beauty include the beauty of man, a horse or of a building. These are dependent beauties in that they lend themselves to expectations of what they have to be and how they should become perfect. The beauty of an, for example, may exist in many different ways from the perfect to the less than perfect to the least perfect.

Kants Confusion. I personally agree with Lorand when she says that Kant is confused in making the distinction between free and dependent beauty.

Lorands argument on the lack of at least one common property between the two kinds of beauty is sound. For example, if we compare a cow and a dog, we can say that our comparison of them is valid in that both are mammals and domesticated. This is, however, not the case between Kants free and dependent beauty. He fails to point out in his Critique of Judgment what makes the beauty of a bird comparable with the beauty of man. This is like comparing a human being and an iron rod and simply making statements like a human being is made of carbon but an iron rod is made of iron.

Another problem with the concept behind free and dependent beauty is that the idea of supposed perfection in dependent beauties somehow predicates a certain bias against free beauties. No one I believe has any a priori proof of saying that things like birds and crustaceans have no idea of perfection and that they are beautiful in themselves. It seems that Kant has conveniently assigned the term free beauty to certain things just because they are too simple to modify. No one can imagine a crustacean in tuxedo anyway. They are just simply eaten and it is only when they are cooked and served that they are called beautiful and only when they are eaten that they can be called perfect. Beauty therefore represents nothing in these crustaceans. On the other hand, the beauty of man seems to have been assigned by Kant the attributes of dependent beauty in that the beauty of man seems to depend on so many factors like intelligence, appearance and many others that can qualify and classify man either as nearly perfect or very much less perfect. It therefore seems biased to the crustaceans to be labeled free beauty just because their IQ cannot be measured and the appearance of their species are more or less uniform. Similarly, being labeled as a dependent beauty seems biased to man as he, unlike the crustacean, cannot seem to be considered perfect just as he is, for he has many attributes and aspects that have been defined by society and culture.

The last problem with Kants theory is that he does not clearly define the meaning of the term beauty itself. His arguments in the Critique of Judgment seem to focus on how judgments of beauty are formulated rather than on what beauty truly is.


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