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A Universality Not Based on Concepts: Kant's Key to the Critique of Taste

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 March 2011

Linda Palmer
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh


‘Beautiful is what, without a concept, is liked universally.’ Thus ends the second Moment of the Analytic of the Beautiful in Kant's Critique of Judgment.

What could yield a non-conceptual universality? Kant finds this in the harmonious ‘free play’ of the mental powers, which he characterizes as a mental state that is both non-cognitive and inherently universally valid. In general, any interpretation of Kant's aesthetic theory will depend on the view of its relationship to cognition. This relationship itself should be understood in reference to Kant's notion of the mental state (or activity of the cognitive powers) in judging generally, as presented in the Critique of Judgment.

Copyright © Kantian Review 2008

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1 References to the Critique of Judgment in the text give Kant's own section numbers or headings, and for longer sections also page numbers from volume 5 of Kants gesammelte Schriften, Deutschen (formerly Koniglichen Preussischen) Akademie der Wissenschaften, 29 vols (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter (and predecessors), 1902). Translations are from Werner S. Pluhar's translation of the Critique of Judgment (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1987), sometimes modified. References to other works of Kant are also to the Akademie edition.

2 I here use Pluhar's translation of Kant's Vorstellung as ‘presentation’ (which he glosses as ‘a generic term referring to such objects of our direct awareness as sensations, intuitions, perceptions, concepts, cognitions, ideas, and schemata’), in lieu of the more traditional ‘representation’. Although Kant himself suggests the Latin representatio for his Vorstellung, in the context of the Critique of Judgment especially I find ‘presentation’ clearer in an English translation. For ‘representation’ has a definite connotation of those mental contents that are intended to represent or stand for something, which is not the case for all mental presentations (in particular, in the judgement of beauty). See Pluhar's note 17, p. 14, and note 4, p. 44.

3 Guyer explicitly rejects an intentionalistic reading in his Kant and the Claims of Taste (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979), p. 99. For Aquila's, Richard presentation of the intentional reading see his ‘A new look at Kant's aesthetic judgments’, in Cohen, T. and Guyer, P. (eds), Essays in Kant's Aesthetics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), pp. 92–6.Google Scholar Christel Fricke's interpretation in her Kants Theorie des reinen Geschmacksurteils (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1990) may also be characterized as an intentional reading; see also Schaper, Eva, Studies in Kant's Aesthetics (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1979), pp. 46–7.Google Scholar On Ginsborg's reading the relation is clearly not causal, but her interpretation relies on her unusual reading of the harmony of the faculties; see Ginsborg, H., ‘On the key to Kant's critique of taste’, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 72 (1991), pp. 290313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

4 Allison, Henry E., Kant's Theory of Taste: A Reading of the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 53–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

5 Allison, Kant's Theory of Taste, p. 54.

6 Fricke speaks of a ‘feeling-consciousness’, or an ability to be ‘feelingly aware’ (sich gefühlmäβig bewusst zu werden, my translation) of the harmony in one's cognitive powers in judging, in Kants Theorie des reinen Geschmacksurteils. It may be noted that this is in the context of her interpretation of $21 of the fourth Moment.

7 Allison, Kant's Theory of Taste, p. 54.

8 See the Critique of Practical Reason, 5: 23.

9 Beck, Lewis White, A Commentary on Kant's Critique of Practical Reason (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), p. 94.Google Scholar

10 Allison, H. E., ‘Pleasure and harmony in Kant's critique of taste: A critique of the causal reading’, in Parret, H. (ed.) Kants Asthetik, Kant's Aesthetics, Lesthdtique de Kant (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1998), p. 475.Google Scholar

11 Of course, according to Allison there is also a disharmonious form of free play, which is expressed via a feeling of displeasure, in judgements of ugliness. I will discuss this in section 4 below.

12 Ginsborg writes that the ‘act of judgment is manifest to consciousness as a feeling of pleasure. It precedes the pleasure, not in a temporal sense, but in the sense that the pleasure is felt in virtue of the act of judgment.’ See Ginsborg, ‘On the key’, p. 300. To be sure, this is part of her austere account of the judgement of taste. But the general point can stand, I think, independently of that account.

13 E.g. see Allison, Kant's Theory of Taste, p. 54.

14 For Allison's account of disinterestedness and the first Moment generally, see Kant's Theory of Taste, chapter 4 (pp. 85–97). For his defence of $6 see pp. 99–103.

15 Ibid., p. 101. Indeed, as Allison notes, the reverse does seem to hold: if non-conceptuality and universality are accepted, disinterestedness also must be accepted, under Kant's analysis of that notion. In recent comments on Allison's account, Longuenesse argues against Allison and with Guyer that it is possible to have a disinterested free play that is not universally valid, giving as an example gameplay for its own sake without any desire to win (‘Kant's theory of judgment, and judgments of taste: On Henry Allison's Kant's Theory of Taste’, Inquiry, 46 (2003), p. 152). Against this Allison argues that Kant would hold that such a pleasure in games, even if one is not interested in winning per se, would yet not be disinterested (would be based on some interest) (‘Reply to the comments of Longuenesse and Ginsborg’, Inquiry, 46 (2003), p. 184).

16 I have altered the translation from that given by Pluhar, to conform more closely to the original. In particular, Pluhar drops the colon in his translation, losing some of the drama of the initial claim.

17 See Hannah Ginsborg, The Role of Taste in Kant's Theory of Cognition (New York: Garland, 1990).

18 It would seem that the pure forms of space and time (according to the Transcendental Aesthetic of the Critique of Pure Reason) would also involve a non-conceptual universality; however, there is no question of the feeling of pleasure or displeasure being involved there.

19 In ‘The necessity of beauty: Kant's argument in the fourth moment’, in preparation.

20 Kant makes some suggestive remarks concerning error in judgements of beauty and whether one can attain ‘certainty’ in such judgements. It has sometimes been claimed that Kant's theory cannot allow for erroneous judgements of beauty. Using an analogy to Kant's moral theory, Allison suggests that, although one can surely be certain of having made a judgement of taste, one cannot attain certainty on whether one's judgement is pure. (By analogy, in the moral theory, one cannot be certain whether one's action comes from the moral motive of duty, or inclination has slipped in.) See Allison, Kant's Theory of Taste, pp. 107–10.

21 Kant does not explain this switch from talk of the universal validity of a reference to the feeling of pleasure and displeasure, in $8, to the universal communicability of a pleasure in $9.

22 See Ginsborg, The Role of Taste, pp. 51–4.

23 Guyer, Kant and the Claims of Taste, pp. 151–60. It is absurd, Guyer holds, because we learn later in $9 that the mental state is one of pleasure and so (he concludes) this would mean that Kant is here asserting that the pleasure is consequent on its own universal validity. By contrast, Ginsborg embraces this reading, taking it as evidence for her austere account; see Ginsborg, ‘On the key’, especially pp. 299–300. 1 do not think we need to read Kant as making the claim that the pleasure is consequent on its own universal communicability. The mental state is described by Kant both as one of free play, and as one of pleasure in free play; but this is readily understood if the pleasure and the play are aspects of the same mental state, in which the pleasure is ‘based on’ the play in the sense that it is a pleasure in the play and is our conscious awareness of it.

24 According to Guyer the ‘judging’, or mere reflection, precedes the pleasure as its cause, and a second act of reflection, or the judgement proper, attributes the pleasure to that sort of judging. If the pleasure is (taken to be) the effect of the right sort of judging it is regarded as carrying a claim to the agreement of others (that is, an expectation or ‘ideal prediction’ of their agreement, on Guyer's view). It can do so because the attributed cause - the mental state in judging - itself has a claim to universality, due to its relation to the subjective conditions of cognition. One problem with this interpretation, as will be noted below, is that it has no way of accommodating Kant's earlier formulation, that the pleasure is based in the universal communicability of the mental state. Guyer himself admits this and therefore rejects the earlier formulation as absurd and a result of confusion on Kant's part.

25 For Guyer's challenge to Kant's claim that the communicability of cognition is a requirement for avoiding scepticism, see Guyer, Kant and the Claims of Taste, pp. 288–93.

26 Kant's third paragraph cites three assumptions: (1) that cognition, and presentation as pertaining to cognition, are universally communicable; (2) that the judgement of beauty makes universal validity claims; and (3) that it does so without relying on concepts. Again, (2) and (3) were established for purposes of the discussion, as a condition of further analysis, in the analysis through $8, while (1) is a Kantian premise that must be considered a given for his argument (that a theory of cognition which left the communicabilty of cognition ungrounded would be a sceptical theory). Now Kant claims at the end of the third paragraph of $9 that ifwe do accept these premises above about the nature of our judgements, then the basis of the non-conceptual universality attributed to judgements of beauty ‘can be nothing other than’ a certain mental state. That is, it may be best to read this ‘if’ not so much as introducing an argumentative inference but as an acknowledgement of the hypothetical nature of the assumption: if we did not accept the hypothesis about the nature of the judgement of beauty, then of course it would not demand explanation. On the other hand, if we are indeed to accept these assumptions, to think that the judgement of beauty involves a non-conceptual universality (and we are), this mental state of free play provides an explanation of how this can be so. It is hard to see how Kant's passage could succeed if taken as the ‘if-then’ of logical inference, for the conclusion does not seem to follow in that strong sense; e.g. Kant has not explicitly excluded any other possible solutions. To be sure, it is not easy to see what else might fulfil these requirements.

27 Kant here says the mental state is a feeling of free play; but it seems that he has just said that the mental state is the state of free play; is the mental state then the free play, or is it the feeling of free play? It seems the answer is: yes, and yes. For the ‘feeling of free play’ should be considered as a coherent mental state in its own right; it should not be considered to involve two distinct mental states, the ‘feeling’ and the ‘play’. This is related to the question discussed in section 1.

28 This is found in the General Comment on the First Division of the Analytic, immediately after the fourth Moment, at Ak. 240 and 241 in the Critique of Judgment. Kant speaks both of ‘free lawfulness of the imagination’ and ‘free lawfulness of the understanding’ in this section.

29 Kant asserts that when the cognitive powers ‘refer a presentation to cognition in general’ no determinate concept is involved, and this state is one of free play. Here the cognitive powers are in the relation that is ‘suitable for cognition in general’. In a cognitive judgement, the cognitive powers refer a presentation to an object, and a determinate concept is involved; here too the cognitive powers are in the relation that is suitable for cognition in general, for Kant says that cognition always rests on that relation as its subjective condition.

30 Kant here postpones two questions: one concerns the necessity of a judgement of beauty, and how it can require the pleasure we feel from everyone else as necessary, ‘just as if it were a characteristic of the object’, even though it is not; and the second is ‘whether and how aesthetic judgments are possible a priori.’ The latter question is taken up in $12 of the third Moment and the necessity, of course, in the fourth Moment. In the pre-Deduction sections Kant also notes the ‘as if objective’ quality, identifying it as one of the two ‘logical peculiarities’ of a judgement of beauty (see especially $32).

31 Note that Kant states that ‘this sensation…is the quickening’ (my emphasis); that is, Kant appears to identify the sensation with the quickening of the cognitive powers. This seems to be another strange formulation: is not the sensation or feeling a feeling of the quickening, rather than being identified with it? Once again, it seems that this is best read under the view that the feeling and the free play are considered as two aspects of one and the same mental state. This point recurs in the consideration of ‘subjective purposiveness’ in the third Moment.

32 Note too that this is consistent with the ‘intentional’ reading championed by several commentators, as discussed in section 1 above.

33 Even though in $1 Kant thus says that the ‘very special power of discriminating and judging’ which compares the given presentation with the entire presentational power ‘does not contribute anything to cognition’, Kant often asserts elsewhere that free play furthers cognition generally; here he seems to mean rather that such a judgement is not itself a cognitive one (it contributes nothing to our store of knowledge).

34 At the very beginning of the Analytic Kant asserts that the mind can feel its own state; this was not something we learned from either the first or the second Critique.As we saw above, this is not an ‘intellectual consciousness’ of our own intentional activity in judging, but a ‘feeling consciousness’ as Fricke puts it, an awareness in and through feeling

35 Allison, Kant's Theory of Taste, p. 111. Allison translates it as follows: ‘Hence it must be the capacity for being universally communicated of the mental state, in the given representation, which underlies the judgement of taste as its subjective condition and the judgment of taste must be its consequence.’ As Allison notes, Pluhar ignores the change in wording in the original, here ‘allgemeine Mittheilungsfähigkeit’ where elsewhere Kant tends to use ‘allgemeine Mittheilbarkeit’ translating both simply as ‘universal communicability’. Allison thus translates the former as ‘capacity for being universally communicated’ and the latter as ‘universal communicability’. This seems reasonable but does not materially affect my own interpretation.

36 Guyer, P, ‘Pleasure and society in Kant's theory of taste’, in Cohen, T. and Guyer, P. (eds), Essays in Kant's Aesthetics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), pp. 2154, p. 53.Google Scholar

37 Ginsborg, ‘On the key’, p. 299.

38 Ibid., p. 299.

39 Ibid., p. 299. Ginsborg takes this to show ‘how it is possible for a feeling of pleasure to be consequent on its own universal communicability.’ Thus, she embraces what Guyer rejects as absurd, namely, that the disputed passage (that the pleasure is based o n the universal communicability of the mental state), in combination with the point also made in $9 that the mental state is one of pleasure, appears to imply that the feeling of pleasure is consequent on its own universal communicability. Ginsborg regards this as a circularity but not a vicious one.

40 Allison, Kant's Theory of Taste, p. 114. Briefly, the advantages cited by Allison are that Ginsborg's reading tries t o make sense of Kant's text as given; it captures the idea of the universal voice, as taking one's mental state as subjectively universal; it is simpler than the two-act view; and it avoids making the judgement of taste ‘demand (or predict) of others… that they have qualitatively identical feelings in response to the same objects.’ Ibid., p. 113. Allison notes that the last is a ‘questionable consequence’ of Guyer's reading, which is used in his (Guyer's) critique of the Deduction as inadequate.

41 Ibid., p. 115.

42 Béatrice Longuenesse, ‘Kant's theory of judgment, and judgments of taste’, pp. 143–63; Hannah Ginsborg, ‘Aesthetic judging and the intentionality of pleasure’, pp. 164–81; and Henry Allison's response, ‘Reply to the comments of Longuenesse and Ginsborg’, pp. 182–94, all in Inquiry,46 (2003).

43 ‘Kant's theory’, pp. 149–51, 153.

44 ‘On the comments’, p. 186.

45 For example, Longuenesse writes, ‘embedded in its predicate is a universal judgment, a judgment in which we “extend the predicate over the sphere of all judging persons”'; and again, ‘if we analyze the pleasurable experience that is expressed in a judgment of taste, we will acknowledge that one of its essential aspects is the claim we make upon others to share it with us’ (‘Kant's theory’, p. 151).

46 I take it that cognitive judgement also has both these two aspects on its subjective side: my mental powers are in a certain relation that accords with the conditions of cognition, and the claim on other judgers. But this is beyond the scope of the present paper

47 ‘Aesthetic judging’, p. 174.

48 I am grateful to the comments of an anonymous reviewer for bringing this issue to my attention.

49 E.g. see Ginsborg's discussion (‘Aesthetic judging’, pp. 167–8) of Allison's take on paradoxical formulations in Kant's own account (‘schematizing without a concept’; others are ‘free lawfulness’, ‘purposiveness without purpose’) in which Kant links the harmony of the cognitive powers to ‘cognition in general’.

50 The third Moment expands on the nature of the relation of purposive harmony, and in the fourth Moment we get the argument that we are justified in presuming such a common inner sense from everyone who judges (indeed, this is identified as t he principle of reflective judgement). Finally, of course, the Deduction itself collects the materials of the preceding analysis and addresses the justification of the principle of reflective judgment.

51 Longuenesse also makes this point: ‘Communicability (Mitteilbarkeit) serves the interest of sociability. But it is nevertheless a self-standing source of pleasure.’ ‘Kant's theory’, p. 155.

52 This is related to another question, which is whether the lack of interest, or of private conditions, is of itself sufficient to establish subjective universality, or whether in addition postulation of, and adherence to, a common standard (a ‘universal reference point’) is also required. If the absence of private conditions is of itself sufficient for intersubjective validity then it seems that judgements of ugliness would have to be granted normativity. But I think this is a deep question in the Critique of Judgment, for while at times Kant seems to imply that abstraction from private conditions is sufficient he also does seem to insist in the third Critique that a normative standard must be assumed, for the sake of the communicability of our cognition. I suspect that this requirement for a normative standard is related to the issues surrounding lawlikeness (the problem with unprojectible predicates is not that they mistakenly involve private conditions). For discussion of this point, see my ‘Purposiveness and Projectibility’, in preparation.

53 ‘Aesthetic judging’, pp. 176–7. Ginsborg follows this with an attempt to account for judgements of ugliness that accords with the austere reading and hence is quite different from my own, or that of Allison or Longuenesse

54 There is some indication, however, that Kant does not allow for neutrality in the realm of feeling; Allison discusses this issue in Kant's Theory of Taste

55 For these passages see especially Allison, Kant's Theory of Taste, p. 54 and pp. 71–2. Allison also finds systematic support for this thesis in so far as he uses it at various points in his interpretation, for instance in the dispute with Ginsborg regarding $9

56 Dieter Henrich discusses the resemblance of Kant's earlier aesthetic theorizing t o his Critique of judgment account, but asserts that in the earlier writings and lectures Kant ‘persistently denied that the philosophical discipline of aesthetics could be founded on a priori principles’, regarding it as part of empirical psychology and aesthetics an ‘empirical discipline’. Henrich, Dieter, Aesthetic Judgment and the Moral Image of the World: Studies in Kant (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992), pp. 33–4.Google Scholar

57 Kant's lectures on anthropology were edited into the book Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View by Kant himself and published after the Critique of Judgment, and include the statement, which Allison cites, that ‘To judge an object by taste is to judge hether freedom in the play of the imagination harmonizes or clashes with the lawfulness of the understanding’ (Kants gesammelte Schriften 7: $67, 241). See Allison, ‘Pleasure and harmony’, p. 481. As Allison notes, this clearly indicates ‘the bi- (or multi-) valence of judgments of taste’, yet I am not sure that it should be taken as definitive regarding the normativity of judgements of ugliness.

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