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Chapter 5 treats Kant’s notions of genius and aesthetic ideas. It argues that his discussion of genius forms a kind of deduction for the possibility of producing and then judging objects that exceed our own capacities. In this, it focuses on Kant’s descriptions of spirit as what nature gives both to the genius and thereby also to the work of beautiful art, thus allowing it to enliven our minds. This playful enlivening through spirit is what makes it possible for the human mind to present, in art, what otherwise exceeds it, namely aesthetic ideas. Here, we find that human beings belong to a nature that is much more expansive than the one ruled by the understanding in the first Critique; nature here is the source of spirit and liveliness. The chapter concludes by highlighting Kant’s repeated observations that nature is expressing itself through genius, and links this to the communicability that underlies the judgment of taste more generally.
The harmonious free play of the imagination and understanding is at the heart of Kant’s account of beauty in the Critique of the Power of Judgement, but interpreters have long struggled to determine what Kant means when he claims the faculties are in a state of free play. In this article, I develop an interpretation of the free play of the faculties in terms of the freedom of attention. By appealing to the different way that we attend to objects in aesthetic experience, we can explain how the faculties are free, even when the subject already possesses a concept of the object and is bound to the determinate form of the object in perception.
This chapter is centered upon the section of the “Critique of Aesthetic Judgment” that Kant calls the “key” to the critique of taste and in which he elaborates the judgment of taste in terms that are striking yet scant, familiar yet elusive: a “state of mind” of “free play” of the cognitive powers, in which they are in “harmony” or “attunement” and are mutually “animated,” and in which their “subjective relation” corresponds to a “subjective condition” of cognition. I propose that a key to Kant’s thought is to be found in the notion of “universal communicability,” which this section introduces. The sense of “communication” on which it depends is, I argue, to be understood robustly, as having to do with the imparting of something to someone. I then argue that the judgment of taste turns on an experience of wanting to render communicable, or explore and articulate, one’s encounter with the extra-factual aesthetic character of the object. My interpretation reorients the role and significance of pleasure, and of feeling more generally, in the judgment of taste. The pleasure of the judgment of taste is in the object and in one’s state of mind, which the object is felt to awaken.
Kant holds that it is possible to quarrel about judgements of beauty and cultivate taste, but these possibilities have not been adequately accounted for in the dominant interpretations of his aesthetics. They can be better explained if we combine a more subjectivist interpretation of the free harmony of the faculties and aesthetic form with a type of social constructivism. On this ‘subjectivist-constructivist’ reading, quarrelling over and cultivating taste are not attempts to conform to some matter of fact, but rather to reconcile subjective perceptions through mutual interchange governed by the regulative goal of constructing a universal community of agreement.
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