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Aesthetic Judgment and the Moral Image of the World.

Henrich, Dieter. Aesthetic Judgment and the Moral Image of the World. Stanford Series in Philosophy. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993. ix + 99 pp. $29.50--This slender volume consists of four lectures which the author gave on various occasions during the past decade. The first two, from which the volume gets its title, are called "Interpretations"; they are linked by their concern, in whole or in part, with Kant's Critique of Judgment. The two remaining lectures, called "Applications," discuss the relevance to political philosophy of the concept of autonomy.

"The Moral Image of the World" interprets Kant's critical undertaking as an ongoing attempt to adapt what he learned from Rousseau, most notably that without a moral image of the natural universe in which we must act our moral conduct would be undermined. After sketching Rousseau's view, Henrich outlines an explanation of this image which Kant never published but of which he left traces in the Critique of Pure Reason. Between the first Critique and the Groundwork, however, Kant became aware of the ambiguities in this theory, revised his account of moral motivation and of the structure of reason, and in the Critique of Practical Reason based the image of the world on the final purpose of moral action, the highest good. Although this account prevails in the Critique of Judgment, there are, Henrich suggests, symptoms that Kant was aware of its weakness and of the need to account for the source from which the notion of a final purpose is generated. His efforts, the lecture concludes, were unsuccessful but opened a philosophical perspective that can be profitably pursued, as Henrich attempts to do in his "applications."

"Kant's Explanation of Aesthetic Judgments" tries to clarify Kant's position that the pleasure expressed in judgments of taste results from the harmonious play between imagination in its freedom and understanding in its lawfulness. The reason Kant could produce his aesthetic theory so quickly, Henrich suggests, was that he had long since derived its contents from Baumgarten and Meier and needed only to integrate those contents into his theory of knowledge, a theory congenial to them because understanding was already involved in perception. Yet the precise relation between imagination and understanding eluded Kant and has continued to puzzle his commentators. Henrich attempts to clarify the relation by means of Kant's position, stated in the Schematism chapter of the first Critique, that possession of a concept requires the ability to apply it or "exhibit" it in intuition. "Exhibition" seems an unpromising source of explanation for judgments that are not applications of a concept: its origin in Kant's account of determinant judgment may have prevented his seeing its relevance to judgments of taste. Henrich, however, sketches a theory in which reflective judgment compares the state of imagination with possible concepts in general, prior to the acquisition of any particular concept. He concludes by noting the weaknesses of contemporary formalist aesthetic theories and the strengths of Kant's theory.

"The Contexts of Autonomy" questions the possibility of justifying and communicating the notion of human rights within a context far removed from the view of a rational agent and of nature in which the notion originated. After sketching the origin, development, and deterioration of this view, Henrich suggests that it could, without requiring an impossible return to the convictions of its originators, revive the notion of human freedom and allow for a way of talking about human rights that would be meaningful to cultures whose self-image is alien to the Western political tradition.

The concluding lecture, "The French Revolution and Classical German philosophy," traces the correlation between the political upheaval in France and the genesis of classical German philosophy to the emergence of a new image of rational agents as autonomous, structuring institutions by principles of reason. The fact that this lecture, as the author's Preface notes, was given shortly before the collapse of the East German regime adds emphasis to his conclusion about the ongoing nature of the task and the problems it involves.

As the above summary suggests, the four lectures differ in the breadth of the brush strokes used. From the perspective of textual analysis, "Kant's Explanation of Aesthetic Judgments" is the most satisfying. They are, however, uniformly thought provoking.
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Author:Gregor, Mary
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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