Second Paper Topics: Kant
Philosophy of Art, Spring 2020
Write a 900-1000 word paper (3 pages, double spaced) on the following topic and send it to me
.Use this template for your filename:
Here is the problem for you to write on.
Show how the specific elements of Kant’s aesthetics (the four moments of aesthetic judgment,
the ideas of the beautiful and the sublime, the idea of genius in art) articulate a new humanism,
the idea of Man in History coming into his own freedom in the age of Enlightenment.
Make clear in the course of your essay how this answers for Kant the key theoretical problem of
aesthetics, how aesthetic judgment can be valid, as something that is true yet not objective or
provable (in the sense of science or morality).
A little background to help you grasp the question.
The concept of Humanity is the founding concept of Kant’s aesthetics. It is a culmination of a
long development going back to the Greek models, and a radical inversion of all prior
humanisms, Greek, Roman, Christian, Renaissance.
First, classicism is essentially humanism, because it is based on the idea that the human form is
the ideal vehicle for the manifestation of divinity. Man is the image of the divine, in Biblical
terms. On this point, Biblical and Greek traditions touch. In Christianity, they fuse. But there
are many kinds of “humanism” that invoke the classical ideal.
Western ideas about art for most of the last 2500 years oriented themselves by reference to
the classical Greeks (though also if to a lesser extent the counterpoint of Egypt). Greek art
provided the classical models of what art is, an “image” or “imitation” of the real (of human
action or embodied soul) but also an image of the divine by means of the human form. The
paradigmatic Greek original inspired many successive epochs—Romans, Medievals,
Renaissance, Enlightenment, and Idealists and Romantic following Kant. They used Greek
classical humanism to serve or express different or new religious and moral intuitions. In each
of these eras, Greek models served as media to convey new humanistic ideals. But until the
modern age (the age of Enlightenment and after), these ideas were still inscribed in a divine
order or Nature or Revelation.
Most of these traditions reflect two vectors, opposed yet often combined: one, the idea that art
is “imitation,” the representation of something real; the other, the idea that art aspires to the
transcendent, to divinity, especially (after the Romans) the Christian notion of God, and serves
as a mode of communication with the divine (think of holy icons in Catholic and Orthodox
traditions). Borrowing Plato’s idea of the “in-between,” the intermediate state of being
represented by the “daimonia” (demi-gods) such as Eros and the other forms of “divine
madness” (including poetry and its enactment by performers like Ion), art aims both “upwards,”
at the transcendent beyond the visible world, and “downwards”, towards nature and life, the
actuality of man and natural. This dual orientation expresses the tensions between religious
and secular drives, between image and idol (in the Greek sense of the kolossos or the holy
icon), and (especially in modern aesthetics) between the beautiful and the sublime.
At the highpoint of the 18th century Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant arrives in effect at a new
kind of classicism (still borrowing from the traditions above), one in which humanism is no
longer dependent either on the Greek mythical or cosmological view of Nature, or on Christian
revelation and theology as in the Medieval and Renaissance worlds. Greek classical humanism
envisions the human in the context of revelation of the divine in Nature or the Cosmos.
Christian (Medieval and Renaissance) humanism absorbs that but also embed its within
supernatural Christian revelation. Kant’s humanism, to the contrary, revolves around Man and
his rational capacity for “moral freedom” in himself (indeed freedom in every aspect of human
experience, including Science and Aesthetic Judgment too). Moral freedom is fundamentally
individual, the freedom of the autonomous or self-legislating will, but it unfolds in the natural
world in the history of society and politics. On this view, History replaces Nature or Revelation
as the basic framework of Man. (I capitalize it to suggest its special role and its teleological
structure in Kant’s view, that fact that it has an until now hidden purpose.)
Kant’s aesthetics assumes “universal humanity” as developing self-awareness of man’s vocation
for moral freedom in history. This is bound up with historical creation of correspondingly
rational social and political institutions. (It is not an easy or painless process—far from it—it
occurs only through violence and conflict.) To be sure, Kant emphatically stresses the
transcendent or religious dimension of morality or man’s vocation. This is attested especially by
the importance for him of the Sublime, but also in general man’s relation to an “Intelligible” or
“supersensible” order or Kingdom above or behind the sensible order of perceptible nature.
Both the Beautiful and the Sublime intimate for him (each in a different way) a higher reality
than the immediate world of nature. This is not given by scriptural revelation but revealed by
Man’s moral and aesthetic powers, his capacity for freedom in moral and aesthetic judgment,
based on Reason but unfolding only in history.
Morality does not come from religion, for Kant; rather, religion comes from our moral selfconsciousness. Likewise, the beautiful does not come from our perception of perfection in
nature, but rather our ostensible perception of beauty (as if) in nature, comes from our power
of judgment and the common humanity it evinces when it is truly free. Kant retains tradition
but turns it upside down by making it revolve around Man’s moral self-awareness.
For Kant, aesthetics (reflective judgments of taste based on the beautiful and sublime in nature
and on the art of genius) thus replaces religion (in the Biblical sense) with culture. It reflects the
secular development of a “sensus communis” of Humanity in History, the sense of a common
humanity evolved in the cultural and artistic traditions of nations.
With this for background, to repeat, write an essay in which you show how the specific elements
of Kant’s aesthetics (the four moments of aesthetic judgment, the ideas of the beautiful and the
sublime, the idea of genius in art) articulate this new humanism, the idea of Man in History
coming into his own freedom.
Show how this answers for Kant the key theoretical problem of aesthetics, how aesthetic
judgment can be valid, as something that is true yet not objective or provable (in the sense of
science or morality).
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