KANT'S AESTHETIC THEORY is often called formalist, in the sense that only what we represent to ourselves expressly in spatial or temporal terms can properly be candidates for aesthetic appraisal. Anything else in our representation, in particular the mere 'matter of sensation', can at best support judgments of charm. These amount to little more than claims that the judging subject himself finds a pleasure in the object judged, one that he may or may not share with others, but which in either case is not stuff for rational debate. Put this idea together with the innocuous thought that Kant would certainly have accepted, that all the fine arts must be capable of sustaining justifiable judgments of taste, and it will follow that they must all deliver up something formal to our experience of their fundamental subject matter. Should we, within a given range of experience, find inspection to yield no such thing, then no matter what we may like to say, no matter how we may find ourselves speaking, sustained reflection will compel us to demote the topic from its aspirations to be art to something more lowly, to mere entertainment or enjoyable diversion and no more.
How thoroughgoing Kant's formalism in fact was is a matter for debate, and in the previous two chapters I have tried to show that it is no more than a superficial trait of his thinking, one which it is easy to help him overcome without distorting the main tenor of his teaching. However, in one particular domain it is of considerable interest, because, by following it through as far as he would like us to, we come to see how rich his thought about the particular arts can be, and how deeply and systematically that