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Zangwill, Moderate Formalism, and Another Look at Kant's Aesthetic

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 June 2011

Christopher Dowling
Affiliation:
Department of Philosophy, York

Extract

In recent years Nick Zangwill has gone a long way in championing a moderate aesthetic formalism in an attempt to accommodate those objects that many of us call beautiful despite their lack of any formal beauty. While there is some dispute in the literature about the extent to which Kant can be interpreted as an aesthetic formalist, the appeal of his famous distinction between free and dependent beauty should present a fairly natural ally for Zangwill's project. Indeed, such an alliance has been expressed by Zangwill, who first reaches for this ‘invaluable but misunderstood and underappreciated distinction’ in his ‘Feasible aesthetic formalism’ (1999: 613). Here, Zangwill claims that this essential distinction can be cut loose from Kant's terminology and views about aesthetic judgement. More recently he expresses more strongly that ‘Kant was also a moderate formalist, who opposes extreme formalism when he distinguished free and dependent beauty in §16 of the Critique of Judgement’ (2005: 186n). Yet, a decade on from the initial suggestion, there has been little further exploration or elucidation of this move, or indeed this potential characterization of Kant's aesthetics. It is the aim of this paper to begin to address that deficiency by identifying the extent to which a moderate formalist position is available in Kant's aesthetic. I will suggest that Kant's account does not require substantial modification in order to cast him as a moderate formalist. Taking the time to isolate the plausible grounds for characterizing Kant's aesthetic in this way, this discussion will enable us to explore some of the rival interpretations of his work such that we may also identify the kind of Kantian the moderate formalist is likely to be.

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Copyright
Copyright © Kantian Review 2010

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