WHY KANT FINDS NOTHING UGLY.
In order to distinguish whether anything is beautiful OR NOT we refer the representation, not by the understanding to the object for cognition, but by the imagination (perhaps in conjunction with the understanding) to the subject and its feeling of pleasure OR PAIN. (p. 37, emphasis added)(1) Taste is the faculty of judging an object or a method of representing it by an entirely disinterested satisfaction OR DISSATISFACTION. The object of such satisfaction is called beautiful. (p.45, emphasis in capitals added)
Oddly enough, in the interval between these framing remarks Kant confines his attention entirely to affirmative judgements. Although no philosopher exceeds Kant in attention to detail, we find him introducing both affirmative and negative judgements of taste and then thoroughly neglecting the latter. Why is Kant so un-Kantian here?
The quoted remarks suggest perhaps that he regards the negative judgement as simply parallel to the affirmative, differing only with respect to whether the subject feels pleasure or pain, satisfaction or dissatisfaction. And, since the beautiful seems to fascinate most people more than the ugly, then perhaps Kant finds it most effective to investigate the affirmative judgement and allow the reader to draw the parallel conclusions about the negative judgement.
But such a strategy (if indeed it is Kant's strategy) is mistaken, since there is a serious problem with Kant's theory that only emerges when the nature of negative judgements is considered. It is my contention that within Kant's aesthetics, there cannot be any negative judgements of taste.(2) This conclusion will be seen to follow directly from two conditions which Kant must hold as necessary for all judgements of taste about beauty (whether affirmative or negative), along with a bit of Kant's philosophy of mind. Those two conditions restricting all judgements of taste are (i) that such judgements must be made independently of determinate concepts and (ii) that such judgements must have universal subjective validity.
That all judgements of taste, whether affirmative or negative, must be undetermined by concepts is of a piece with Kant's conception of judgements of taste as aesthetical judgements. For Kant, to say that a judgement is aesthetical is to say that it is a purely subjective judgement about feelings of pleasure or pain. In the aesthetical judgement we do not judge whether the object falls under a given concept, but rather whether it is accompanied in the subject by pleasure or by pain.
The judgement of taste is therefore not a judgement of cognition, and is consequently not logical but aesthetical, by which we understand that whose determining ground can be no other than subjective. Every reference of representations, even that of sensations, may be objective ..., save only the reference to the feeling of pleasure and pain, by which nothing in the object is signified, but through which there is a feeling in the subject as it is affected by the representation. (p. 38)
Judgements about the beautiful are purely contemplative. The subject is not interested in whether the object exemplifies certain properties--that is, whether it falls under definite concepts. Judgements of taste must be independent of determinate concepts.
In The Critique of Pure Reason and The Critique of Practical Reason, Kant examines theoretical and practical judgements--judgements that do involve determinate concepts. The revelation of the third critique is the existence of an altogether different type of judgement, one that is not determinant. It is the reflective judgement. While judgement in general is, for Kant, that faculty by which particulars are subsumed under universals, the reflective judgement differs from the determinant with respect to what is given.
Judgement in general is the faculty of thinking the particular as contained under the universal. If this universal (the rule, the principle, the law) be given, the judgement which subsumes the particular under it ... is determinant. But if only the particular be given for which the universal has to be found, the judgement is merely reflective. (p. 15)
According to the Kantian model of mind, there are for creatures such as us two faculties involved in cognition--the imagination, by which the manifold of intuitions is assembled and apprehended; and the understanding, by which the intuitions are united by means of concepts. In judgement, these two cognitive faculties are related to each other.
In determinant judgements, the relation between the imagination and the understanding is a definite, objective relation. In such judgements, the subject becomes aware that a given manifold of intuitions is subject to determinate rules of the understanding which unite them. Here the cognitive faculties stand in an objective, determinate relation to one another, and so Kant would say that the subject's state of mind is determinant.
In the judgement of taste, which is a type of reflective judgement, the state of mind is quite different. The imagination furnishes an assemblage of intuitions but no concept is given in the understanding by which cognition of the object can take place. The cognitive faculties can only be said to stand in a subjective and indefinite relation to one another, and thus Kant would say that the subject's state of mind is not determinant.
I stated earlier that the impossibility of negative judgements of taste stems from two requirements on all judgements of taste. To this point we have seen something of the first requirement, that the judgement of taste should be independent of concepts. Now let us consider the second requirement, that the judgement of taste should have universal subjective validity.
By this requirement, Kant means that the subject demands that everyone else should make the same judgement. In regard to the pleasant, says Kant, the subject will grant everyone has their own tastes. But `the judgement of taste requires the agreement of everyone, and he who describes anything as beautiful claims that everyone ought to give his approval to the object in question and also describe it as beautiful' (p. 74).
We formulate the judgement by speaking as if beauty were a property of the object--that is, as though the judgement were a determinant one. We speak this way because there is a similarity between the judgement of taste and the determinant judgement, in that they both lay claim to universal validity.
But if he gives out anything as beautiful, he supposes in others the same satisfaction; he judges not merely for himself, but for everyone, and speaks of beauty as if it were a property of things. Hence, he says, `the thing is beautiful.' (p. 47)
Kant argues that this claim to universal validity is essential to (affirmative) judgements of taste. For without this validity it would never occur to anyone to call anything beautiful at all, and `everything which pleases without a concept would be counted as pleasant' (p. 48).
But, by parity of reasoning, negative judgements of taste must also be universally valid. For if any candidate for a negative judgement of taste were to lack this universal validity, it would then not be a judgement of taste at all, but rather a judgement of mere displeasure.
Although both determinant judgements and judgements of taste alike must be universally valid they derive their validity from different sources. A determinant judgement, since it is based on objective concepts, is valid for all judging subjects. Regarding whether or not an object falls under a given concept, it must be demanded that everyone make the same judgement. This claim to universality Kant calls `objective universal validity'. But a judgement of taste, since it is made independently of objective concepts, cannot lay claim to this. Its universality is subjective universal validity.
Here we find the central riddle of the `Analytic of the Beautiful'. How can judgements of taste be made independently of objective concepts and yet be universally valid? That is, how can a purely subjective judgement lay claim to universality at all? Calling this universality `subjective' does not answer the riddle, but only emphasizes it. The origin of this universality is puzzling and, as Kant says, `it requires no small trouble to discover its origin, but we thus detect a property of our cognitive faculty which without this analysis would remain unknown' (p. 48). The property to which he refers is the harmonious free play of the imagination and the understanding.
Kant holds that since judgements of taste are universally valid, then some aspect of them must be universally communicable. That is, if all judging subjects ought to arrive at the same judgement, then there must be some determining ground of the judgement which they can all share. This must hold for both affirmative and negative judgements alike, since it stems only from the universal validity of the judgement.
In judgements of taste, Kant argues, what is universally communicable is the subject's mental state. The universality cannot be attributed to the pleasure, for there would be nothing to distinguish this pleasure from that of the merely pleasant. And this is ruled out because that latter pleasure has no claim at all to universality. `For such pleasure would be nothing different than the mere pleasantness in the sensation, and so in accordance with its nature could have only private validity' (p. 51). According to Kant, it follows that what is universally communicable in the judgement of taste, and what is thereby the source of its universal validity, is simply the state of mind of the subject.
Again, it is clear that a corresponding argument can be made about the negative judgement of taste. The pain or dissatisfaction cannot be what is universally communicable, for there would be nothing to distinguish it from that of the merely unpleasant, which has no claim at all to universality. Hence, what is universally communicable in the negative judgement of taste must also be the mental state of the subject.
But, as we have already seen, that state of mind is not determinant. An earlier question was how a judgement which is undetermined by concepts could lay claim to universal validity. Now the question has become how a mental state which is indeterminate can admit of universal communicability.
In the case of determinant judgements, the source of universality is obvious. There the cognitive faculties stand in an objective relation, and it is not difficult to see that different subjects will share that determinate mental state in making the judgement. But in judgements of taste there is no determinate cognition taking place which could be the source of this judgement's universality. However, Kant argues, here there must be some reference to cognition.
But nothing can be universally communicated except cognition and representation, so far as it belongs to cognition. For it is only thus that this latter can be objective, and only through this has it a universal point of reference, with which the representative power of everyone is compelled to harmonize. If the determining ground of our judgement as to this universal communicability of the representation is to be merely subjective, i.e., is conceived independently of any concept of the object, it can be nothing else than the state of mind, which is to be met with in the relation of our representative powers with each other, so far as they refer a given representation to cognition in general. (p. 51)
Kant is arguing that the mental state in a judgement of taste must somehow refer the representation to cognition in general. This is so, according to Kant, because what is universally communicable must either be a definite cognition or refer to cognition in general, and the mental state is not that of a definite cognition.
Kant believes that such a state of mind can be nothing other than the harmonious free play of the imagination and the understanding.
The subjective universal communicability of the mode of representation in a judgement of taste, since it is to be possible without presupposing a definite concept, can refer to nothing else than the state of mind in the free play of the imagination and the understanding (so far as they agree with each other, as is requisite for cognition in general). (p. 52)
The crucial remark in this passage is the parenthetical clause: `so far as they agree with each other, as is requisite for cognition in general'. Since the mental state is not that of any definite cognition, the only way it could admit of universal communicability is to satisfy the necessary conditions of cognition in general.
What is required for cognition in general is that the cognitive faculties must agree with each other, they must harmonize. No cognition whatsoever can possibly take place unless the understanding and the imagination an interact harmoniously. Every definite cognition rests upon such harmony of the cognitive powers. A state of mind which refers to cognition in general can only be this state of harmonious free play, for this is the subjective condition of cognition. Therefore, argues Kant, this must be the state of mind in any judgement of taste.
Thus Kant answers the riddle of how a mental state can be indeterminate yet universally communicable. Although it is indeterminate, the mental state is suitable for cognition in general, and hence it is universally communicable.
We are conscious that this subjective relation, suitable for cognition in general, must be valid for everyone, and thus must be universally communicable, just as if it were a definite cognition, resting always on that relation as its subjective condition. (p. 52) The excitement of both faculties (imagination and understanding) to indeterminate but yet, through the stimulus of the given sensation, harmonious activity, viz. that which belongs to cognition in general, is the sensation whose universal communicability is postulated by the judgement of taste. (p. 53)
One might try to locate here a possible niche within Kant's system where negative judgements might reside. After all, couldn't Kant allow negative judgements to be those which are occasioned by representations that fail to excite the faculties to this harmonious free play, or even actively thwart this state of mind?
Clearly he cannot allow for this, since every consideration which led to the conclusion that affirmative judgements of taste are accompanied by harmonious free play is also a consideration met by any possible negative judgement of taste as well. The negative judgement of taste must, just as the affirmative, be made independently of objective concepts, and therefore the accompanying state of mind cannot be determinant. The negative judgement of taste, just as the affirmative, must be universally valid, and therefore it must admit of universal communicability. Kant has argued that what is universally communicable in the (affirmative) judgement of taste is the subject's mental state and, as we have seen, the same must be argued in the case of negative judgements.
But Kant argues that any state of mind which is not determinant but which is universally communicable can only be the harmonious free play. And that argument depends on nothing which could distinguish' the negative from the affirmative judgement, but only on the twofold requirement of indeterminacy and universality which is met by both sorts of judgement. Therefore, within Kant's aesthetics, every judgement of taste must be accompanied in the subject by the state of harmonious free play of the faculties.
Now, if it can be shown that Kant considers this state of harmonious free play always to be pleasurable, it will follow that the only judgements of taste are those that involve pleasure (i.e. the affirmative judgements) and that Kant's theory leaves no place for negative judgements. And it is quite clear that he does consider this harmonious free play always to be pleasurable.
Kant states that pleasure is necessarily bound up with this harmonious free play. The subject, in representing the object to himself, becomes aware of this harmony and, as a result of this must feel the pleasure which is bound up with this state of mind.
Hence it is the universal capability of communication of the mental state in the given representation which, as the subjective condition of the judgement of taste, must be fundamental and must have the pleasure in the object as its consequent. (p. 51) The consciousness of the mere formal purposiveness in the play of the subject's cognitive powers, in a representation through which an object is given, is the pleasure itself. (P. 57)
The `mere formal purposiveness' in the play of the cognitive faculties is the same thing as the harmony of their play. In the judgement of taste, the imagination refers the representation to the understanding, because it seems that there is some definite rule implicit in the object--i.e. that it exists `in accordance with a will which has regulated it according to the representation of a certain rule' (P- 55)- But, since no such rule can be found, this purposiveness is not objective, but merely formal. It is our consciousness of this mere formal purposiveness that Kant regards as constitutive of the pleasure which is felt.
Therefore it can be nothing else than the subjective purposiveness in the representation of an object without any purpose (either objective or subjective), and thus it is the mere form of purposiveness in the representation by which an object is given to us, so far as we are conscious of it, which constitutes the satisfaction that we without a concept judge to be universally communicable; and consequently this is the determining ground of the judgement of taste. (p. 56)
Since harmonious free play is always pleasurable, and since all judgements of taste are accompanied by harmonious free play, it follows that every judgement of taste must be accompanied by the feeling of pleasure in the subject. But any judgement of taste in which the subject's feeling is that of pleasure is, by definition, an affirmative judgement of taste. Therefore, within Kant's aesthetics, and contrary to the obvious fact of the matter, negative judgements of taste about free beauty are quite impossible.(3)
(1) All quotations and pagination contained herein are from Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgement, trans. J. H. Bernard (London: Hafner, 1951).
(2) My thesis concerns only the pure judgement of taste, or what Kant also calls the judgement of `free beauty (pulchritudo vaga)'. Judgements of adherent beauty lie outside the scope of this essay.
(3) Of course, this must not be taken to imply that Kant is thereby committed to the claim that everything is beautiful, for from the claim that no object can be judged to be ugly, it cannot be inferred that every object must be judged to be beautiful.
David Shier, Department of Philosophy, Washington State University, PO Box 645130, Pullman, WA 99164-5130, USA.