Kant's Theory of Taste: A Reading of the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment

Kant's Theory of Taste: A Reading of the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment

Kant's Theory of Taste: A Reading of the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment

Kant's Theory of Taste: A Reading of the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment

Synopsis

This book constitutes one of the most important contributions to recent Kant scholarship. In it, one of the preeminent interpreters of Kant, Henry Allison, offers a comprehensive, systematic, and philosophically astute account of all aspects of Kant's views on aesthetics. An authoritative guide to the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment (the first and most important part of the Critique of Judgment), no one with a serious interest in Kant's aesthetics can afford to ignore this groundbreaking study.

Excerpt

The eighteenth century, usually known as the “Age of Reason, ” has also been characterized as the “Century of Taste. ” If this juxtaposition seems strange to us today, it is because we have lost sight of the ideal, normative element, which, as Gadamer points out, was essential to the concept of taste as it developed in the seventeenth and eighteenth Centuries. Thus, whereas for us to say that a question or evaluation is a matter of taste is to imply that it is merely a private, subjective matter lacking any claim to normativity, this was not at all the case in the eighteenth century. On the contrary, as Gadamer also points out, taste was thought of as a special way of knowing, one for which rational grounds cannot be given, but which nonetheless involves an inherent universality. In short, it was not a private but a social phenomenon, inseparably connected with a putative sensus communis. Moreover, taste, so construed, was not limited to the realm of the aesthetic, but also encompassed morality, indeed, any domain in which a universal order or significance is thought to be grasped in an individual case.

It is therefore in terms of this widely shared viewpoint that we must understand both Kant's lifelong concern with the question of taste and his definitive account of it given in the Critique of Judgment. For in this respect, as in so many others, he was very much a man of his time, even though, as we shall see, this did not prevent him from breaking with the orthodoxy of the day on a number of crucial points regarding taste.

Kant's earliest significant discussion of taste is contained in his Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime (1764). This brief and stylistically elegant work stems from a period in which Kant still thought, in agreement with the British moral sense tradition, that morality was based on feeling, and in which he, like many of his contemporaries, insisted on an intimate linkage between moral feeling and the aesthetic feelings of the sublime and the beautiful. Thus, in discussing the principles underlying true virtue, Kant remarks that they are not speculative rules, but “the consciousness of a feeling that lies in every human breast . . .

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