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Aesthetic Judgment of Kant

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When an object is perceived as ‘beautiful’ by an individual, to use as an example, “This rose is beautiful” then that statement must then have a predetermined judgement on something that is universally ‘agreeable’. This reasoning that the rose must be beautiful is, as Kant would describe it, an individual’s subjective feeling towards the rose and as stated before must in turn be universally validified. Our aesthetic judgments interact with the world around us in the way that beauty is influenced by this universal judgement of taste. In Kant’s explanations of the moments in the judgements of taste through the theory that has been constructed there is a distinct approach towards a collective mindset that the knowledge of the world and understanding of art history is defined by these moments of aesthetics judgment.

To understand these moments Kant’s overall view of aesthetic judgments has to be broken apart to be applied to the individual. According to the first moment, for example, in the way that one would seek out a print of a famous painting to hang on their wall is the way that we aim to possess that object. Pleasure and beauty are not the same according to Kant; pleasure has the end goal to seek and find a purpose for the object of one’s desire whereas something that is inherently beautiful is appreciated without the need of a purpose. Therefore, these aesthetic judgments are universal as they are dethatched from interest, “Taste is the faculty for judging an object or a kind of representation through a satisfaction or dissatisfaction without any interest. The object of such a satisfaction is called beautiful” (Kant, 96).

One other mention is that there shouldn’t be any confusion between beauty and the sublime but are both similar in the way that they determine human knowledge towards the world. Kant begins his next chapter, ‘Second Book: Analytic of the Sublime’, “The beautiful coincides with the sublime in that both please for them-selves” as both require a moment of judgmental reflection (Kant, 128). The beautiful resides in what Kant would believe as common sense while the sublime is connected to the ability to reason. Taking the rose example from before “This rose is beautiful” does not have the same understanding behind a sentence such as “The ocean is beautiful”. There is little reason behind the statement “The ocean is beautiful” for how can something incomprehensible be the same as beauty? Rather it falls under the category of the sublime as a force of nature (nature not being defined as everything seen in nature since the rose is the beautiful and the ocean is sublime but in the idea of forces that are too vast for comprehension) that results in pleasure, “the satisfaction in the sublime does not so much contain positive pleasure as it does admiration or respect, i.e., it deserves to be called negative pleasure” (Kant, 129). Pleasure is a feeling that derives from purpose (as stated before) whereas the beauty lacks such a purpose and is without pleasure. This brings the difference between the knowledge/understanding and the imagination. When simply admiring the ocean there is a sense of pleasure there is a sense of allowing the imagination run free whereas the attempt at understanding or classifying the ocean simply as beautiful would not bring pleasure as this takes the imagination out of the observation.

The second moment applies to all that has been considered; everything beautiful must fall under a universal satisfaction. To yet again bring up the rose (as Kant is best understood through the use of such comparisons), one would be able to judge the rose in a manner that is universally understood. Meaning that to judge an object’s beauty is to acknowledge the factors that would otherwise have some people disagree with the opinion that the rose is beautiful. Although there are always people who will disagree with an opinion especially on matters of beauty there is at least the implication in one’s mind that the statement “The rose is beautiful” has to be universally true. Kant while crafting his theories on the aesthetics of judgement, was fully aware (and anticipating) new contemporary philosophical views towards his theories. To Kant he further argues his theory by stating, “…and that this claim to universal validity so essentially belongs to a judgment by which we declare something to be beautiful that without thinking this it would never occur to anyone to use this expression, rather everything that pleases without a concept would be counted as agreeable, regarding which everyone can be of his own mind, and no one expects assent to his judgment of taste of anyone else, although this is always the case in judgments of taste about beauty” (Kant, 99).

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The third moment brings back the concept of purpose and purposiveness. Albeit this moment is one of more challenging theories that Kant produces, it can be understood as something that is with or without a concept. A purpose is the concept to which it is created to be while the purposiveness is a characteristic in which appears to have been created. In this sense then the beautiful relates to purposiveness but in turn remains without a purpose. The rose is beautiful and therefore has purposiveness but the fact that it is beautiful derives it of a purpose. This is similar to the difference between an object that is beautiful and one that gives us pleasure. The object that gives pleasure is given a purpose and that is something that one might likely have a goal in mind for (to restate from earlier, something someone might wish to own), whereas the beautiful does not need to be given the idea of beauty or a purpose and therefore is lacking. However, Kant also argues that beauty can be pleasurable and that the reasoning as to why beauty can be such is that pleasure is derived from an achievement; stating that an object is beautiful is giving it the pleasure of purpose.

The final moment is the aesthetic judgments reaching a point of being necessary. This section argues the idea of common sense and Kant begins to question the right of judgment. “Thus, only under the presupposition that there is a common sense (by which, however, we do not mean any external sense but rather the effect of the free play of our cognitive powers), only under the presupposition of such a common sense, I say, can the judgment of taste be made”, this is to further verify the idea that everyone is universally, in this way, connected, to ensure that the Kantian theory that the second moment must be correct (Kant, 122). These arguably subjectivity conditions towards beauty are what Kant believe to create the common sense (more simply put, this must be beautiful because a large amount of people derive pleasure from it and therefore it is common sense that this is universally understood to be beautiful, disregarding other opinions as this one opinion is common sense).

Understanding these four moments of aesthetic judgment it can be better understood the Kantian view on how aesthetics changes the world around it. The contemporary view of art history has taken such theories of Kant and picked them apart in order to satisfy the concerns of the modern day. There is little to be read in work of Kant that would include the ideas of beauty of other cultures or races and the same could be said for a more feminist view of beauty (a bad example of this could be that this could be related to the controversial viewpoint of leg hair on women while the universal viewpoint would be that this is ugly whereas the feminist viewpoint would see the beauty in it).

The theories of Kant have shaped the knowledge of art history in a similar manner as still today there is a struggle in accepting the viewpoints of art in the Eastern part of the world. This Eurocentric idea that beauty and art is ‘universally understood’ and that others such as Danto could argue their own thesis about ‘The Death of Art’ or referencing Greenberg about ‘The Crisis of the Easel Picture’, that European Renaissance art is what could replicate nature and be considered beautiful. These Kantian theories play a role in the art history world of classism, arguably there is still a stereotypical viewpoint that there is an upper-class that dine on cheese and wine while discussing famous paintings and artists. Larry, through his theory on the evolution of aesthetic taste, provides us with an example, “…frequent experiences of this refined sort distinguished the polite public from the ignorant poor or the boorish rich and their 'grosser' pleasures. Yet it was not only the laboring poor or the booby squires who were believed to lack the fine sensibility requisite to good taste but also the colored races, most women, and, on the wealthier side, the idle rich who mixed art and luxury” (Larry, 137). In its own sense, whether Kant had this goal in mind or not, the Kantian ideas presented represent and verify the racist bias that some of the art world remain to believe today. Hume, on the other hand, takes into consideration the cultures and races that are not his own into his theory of the aesthetic judgement. Perhaps there is a universal idea of what we consider beautiful (albeit to its own culture, religion, and race) but this can only be studied as through the eyes of one group at a time. Understanding that society and its determined expectations do quite obviously have an influence on one’s beliefs (whether this be applied to aesthetics, religion, beauty trends, etc.) then the Kantian theories do have their own validity.

Such philosophers like Kant have shaped and continue the shape these universal judgments of today as they are esteemed people in the world of philosophy and art history. Through the bias of what is already known and accepted as for art history (as mentioned before art history is still progressing in terms of the acceptance of other cultures) the Kantian theories, although argued consistently through the decades, have remained to shape the ideas of aesthetic judgment in the art history world. Kantian theories in the wake of the progressing art history field will be presented and considered through the contemporary theories of how to reconsider what was known as the aesthetic judgements of the hive mind mentality.


  1. Danto, Arthur C. “Modernism and the Critique of Pure Art: The Historical Vision of Clement Greenberg”. In After the End of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History, 61-78. Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ, 1997.
  2. Gardner, Sebastian. “Aesthetics”. In The Blackwell Companion to Philosophy, 2nd ed., edited by Nicholas Bunnin and E. P. Tsui-James, 231-256. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
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