Kant’s Critique of Judgment attempts to answer how feeling can be both aesthetic and universal. The article uses the beautiful to define these feelings. Claiming that something is beautiful is making a universal judgment, a statement which aims to win the agreement of all rational beings. Yet the basis for this judgment appears to be nothing more than a single person’s pleasure in contemplating a particular serious object. We say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yet we continue to argue about our aesthetic judgments.
Kant argues that aesthetic judgments must have four distinguishing characteristics which include: disinterest, universal, necessary, and purposive without purpose.
Stolnitz defines the aesthetic attitude as, “disinterested and sympathetic attention to and contemplation of any object of awareness whatever, for its own sake alone” (Alperson 10). Kant also states that aesthetic judgments are disinterested. He speaks of two types of interests of which aesthetic judgments are free: the agreeable, which comes by way of sensations and the good, which comes by way of concepts.
Kant also uses universality, purposiveness, and necessity in defining the aesthetic attitude.
The terms which are used to defining the aesthetic attitude are further defined due to their crucial importance. Stolnitz says that disinterested means, “that we do not look at the object out of concern or with any ulterior purpose which it may serve” (Alperson 10). Kant states that, “Everyone has to admit that if a judgment about beauty is mingled with the least interest then it is very partial
and not a pure judgment of taste” (Kant 45).
When we become so absorbed looking at a work of art, listening to a piece of music, or watching a play that we no longer see it for any practical purpose, we are more than merely interested, rather we are disinterested. Kant says an object is called beautiful when it is judged or presented, “by means of liking or disliking devoid of all interest” (Kant 45).
Sympathetic in the definition of the aesthetic attitude refers to accepting an object on its own terms. Stolnitz says that we must give the object a chance to, “show how it can be interesting to perception” (Alperson 11). Attention is used to mean, “sitting on the edge of the chair.” When experiencing the aesthetic attitude, we focus all of our attention of the object allowing our imagination and emotion to respond to the object. Contemplation is used in the definition to sum up the ideas of the aesthetic attitude. By definition it means, “perception is directed to the object in its own right and that the spectator is not concerned to analyze it or to ask questions about it” (Alperson 12).
Ordinarily we perceive objects in terms of their usefulness. For example, when I see a thumb tack, I see something that will hold papers or pictures up on the wall. I do not see it for any aesthetic purpose, which would be stupid and wasteful. When we have a practical attitude towards something, we perceive objects as a, “means to some goal which lies beyond the experience of perceiving them” (Stolnitz 9).
There are two types of beauty according to Kant: free beauty (self-subsistent) and accessory beauty (conditioned beauty). According to Kant flowers are an example of free natural beauties. Free beauties themselves, “belong to no object determined by concepts as to its purpose, but we like them freely and on their own account” (Kant 51). When judging free beauty our judgment of taste is pure. When I look at something in nature, such as a flower, a sunset, or an animal, that I know nothing about or what it is meant to be, I am judging it purely. Beauty in nature appears as purposive with respect to our sense of judgment, which is why beauty is pleasurable.
“Liking something for beauty presupposes no concept but is directly connected with the presentation by which the object is given” (Kant 52). Kant speaks of a botanist looking at a flower, who sees it as a reproductive organ of a plant. But we, who know little or nothing about what a flower is supposed to be, see it as form and shape; therefore, we like the flower for its beauty because of the way it is presented rather than its presupposed concept. He also refers to fantasias in music, which has no topic in the same group of beauty.
Kant argues that aesthetic judgments must have four distinguishing characteristics which include: disinterest, universal, necessary, and purposive without purpose. He attempts to define the aesthetic attitude through these judgments as well as disinterested pleasure. He ties this to the concept of free beauty, which appears without a concept. When we combine all of these ideas, then and only then can we say that something is beautiful.
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