The Possibility of Art

THE Critique enquires how beauty is possible, where that is seen as the question of how our individual responses of delight to the world could possibly underwrite true or false aesthetic judgments about it. The success of the theory that supplies the answer is tested in part by its ability to extend what it teaches us about the beauty of the natural world to the beauty of art. In terms that Kant himself would appreciate, we have to say how art is possible en route to showing how beauty is. I put it like this because, for Kant, art is of interest to us primarily on account of its beauty. Maybe the artist often fails to secure that goal, but the goal must be one that can be reached. Otherwise, Kant would feel, the activity of producing art will be pointless, and any extensive concern for its objects will be kept alive only through illusion and self-deception. Briefly, if beauty in art, and hence art, is not possible, neither is beauty itself, taken in the broad way that we commonly assume to be correct.

In fact, of course, art presents no such threat. So, Kant's quite general account of beauty, erected primarily with an eye to handling the natural cases, must apply directly to it, or else, if it fails to do that, fall back weakly on some equivocation at this sensitive point. Now, no-one prior to Hegel, least of all Kant, has positively wanted to say that the beauty of art and the beauty of nature are so different in kind that division is forced upon the terms which we use to talk about them. 1 Nevertheless, no commentator whom I know of is entirely at ease in vouching for a convincing unity within Kantian theory. The result is that we are left to wonder whether the broad story is not radically


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Kantian Aesthetics Pursued


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