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1.1 Background to the Study
Beauty is an important part of our lives. Ugliness too. It is no surprise then that philosophers
since antiquity have been interested in our experiences of and judgments about beauty and
ugliness. They have tried to understand the nature of these experiences and judgments, and they
have also wanted to know whether these experiences and judgments were legitimate. Both these
projects took a sharpened form in the twentieth century, when this part of our lives came under a
sustained attack in both intellectual circles. Much of the discourse about beauty since the
eighteenth century had deployed a notion of the “aesthetic”, and so that notion in particular came
in for criticism. This disdain for the aesthetic may have roots in a broader cultural Puritanism,
which fears the connection between the aesthetic and pleasure.
The twentieth century was not kind to the notions of beauty or the aesthetic. Nevertheless,
there were always some thinkersphilosophers, as well as others in the study of particular arts
who persisted in thinking seriously about beauty and the aesthetic. In the first part of this essay,
we will look at the particularly rich account of judgments of beauty given to us by Immanuel Kant.
The notion of a “judgment of taste” is central to Kant’s account and also to virtually everyone
working in traditional aesthetics; so we begin by examining Kant’s characterization of the
judgment of taste. In the second part, we look at the issues that twentieth century thinkers raised.
In the third part, we consider disinterestedness, which is taken by Kant to be part of the judgment
of taste. We end by drawing on Kant’s account of the judgment of taste to consider whether the
notion of the aesthetic is viable.
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Kant's Critique of Judgment is arguably the most important and the most influential work
in the whole history of Aesthetics. It was published in 1790. The overall goal of the Critique of the
Power of Judgment was to restore the unity of philosophy that was lost due to a sharp separation
of its two main provinces: the realm of theoretical knowledge, and the realm of practical
For Kant the only certainty philosophy can provide is grounded in ourselves, not in
something outside ourselves. However, in order to establish more substantial links between the
external world of nature and the internal world of self-consciousness, he subsequently becomes
concerned with what makes us appreciate and create beauty.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Kant’s universal subjectivity of aesthetic judgment is riddled with problems and these
problems requires solutions-which is the reason we embarked on this research work in the first
place. While aesthetic judgments can be said to be objective and universal, Kant took another path
in that in that he did not subscribe to the second path of aesthetic judgments being private and
subjective. For Kant, what we deem as being beautiful must be generally accepted by all to be
beautiful. However, the question is: is it possible for each and every one of us to come to a position
of universality in accepting an object as constituting beauty as Kant Supposed? Can we ever have
universality in the sense that our taste differ and so our perceptual powers may not be the same?
Kant’s aesthetic judgment as being subjective is also full of apparent flaws. If our
judgments are subjective, it means a perceiver A may not agree with perceiver B on what is
beautiful. In this sense, even though Kant subscribes to disinterestedness as the only way forward,
we cannot completely subtract bias and prejudice from aesthetic judgment. And it is in this context
that we are inclined to believe that it is difficult to arrive at universality of subjectivity is allowed.
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1.3 Aim and Objectives
The aim of this work is to do a critique of Kant’s universal subjectivity in aesthetic
judgement. For the purpose of this study, the study will seek to achieve the following;
i. To identify, analyse and document the concepts of aesthetics, appreciation and criticism
in Kant’s universal subjectivity of aesthetic judgement.
ii. To analyse and discuss thoroughly, the concepts of Aesthetics.
iii. What is its relationship to the beautiful and the sublime.
1.4 Scope of the Study
This work shall concern itself with a Critique of Kant’s universal subjectivity in aesthetic
judgement. However, reference shall be made to other authorities when necessary.
1.5 Significance of the Study
The significance of the study is to show that if ‘aesthetic judgement’ is approached in the
way Immanuel Kant postulated it, with reference to the Beautiful and the Sublime.
The broader significance of Kant’s aesthetics is that Kant clearly takes his aesthetic theory
to be of central importance for the understanding called faculty of judgment” generally implies
that he takes it to be of importance for understanding empirical scientific enquiry, and in particular
for our understanding of its phenomena. Kant’s view that judgment of beauty manifests the
exercise of a more general faculty of judgment as a model for judgment generally in both the
cognitive and the practical domain.
1.6 Research Methodology
The method through which this research is undertaken and explained is the analytical
method. This research employs the use of primary and secondary sources. The analytical method
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will be used to analyze every relevant concepts relating and connecting Kant’s universal
subjectivity of aesthetic judgment and also situate Kant’s aesthetic within the discipline of
philosophy. The analytical method will also be used to reveal the value of aesthetic judgment and
the basis of his philosophy in relation to beauty.
1.7 Organization of the Study
The study is divided into five chapters. In the first chapter it will serve as a guide to
understand my claims on aesthetics and consists of the key terms of Kant’s first critique, CPR. The
second chapter will present samples of notion of some scholars whose views are also concerned
with the subject matter of this work. In the third chapter the general bearings of Kantian aesthetics
will be introduced. In the fourth chapter by a simple assumption that for a judgement of taste we
need at least a subject and an object of experience. The last part brings the work to an end with a
summary, evaluation and conclusion.
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The full field of Aesthetics is a very large one. Aesthetic education is a very important area of
study in schools and colleges. In dealing with such an area in the field therefore, it is appropriate
to review a selection of what other educational thinkers have written about the meaning, concept,
scope and importance of aesthetics, appreciation and criticism that are relevant to this thesis.
Although, there is a large body of literature on aesthetics in general, for the sake of this research,
only that, which is directly relevant to this topic will be consulted and discussed in this context.
There is virtually only a scant reference made on aesthetics, appreciation and criticism of
judgement in Immanuel Kant’s universal subjectivity. The information for the related literature
derived by this researcher was through books written generally on European aesthetics,
appreciation and criticism and a few on that of Africa.
The New Encyclopedia revealed the origin of the term “aesthetics” which is derived from
a Greek word for perception aesthesis. It was introduced in the 18th. Century by a German
Philosopher Alexander Baumgarten (1714-1762) in 1735, to denote what he conceived as the
realm of concrete knowledge in which content is communicated in sensory form, it stated that
aesthetics is concerned with understanding of beauty, particularly as it is manifested in art and its
According to the Free Encyclopedia, from the late 17th to the early 20th century Western
aesthetics underwent a slow revolution into what is often called modernism. German and British
thinkers emphasized beauty as the key component of art and of the aesthetic experience, and saw
art as necessarily aiming at beauty.
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For Baumgarten, aesthetics is the science of the sense experiences, a younger sister of logic
and beauty is thus, the most perfect kind of knowledge that sense experience can have. For Kant
the aesthetic experience of beauty is a judgment of a subjective but universal truth, since all people
should agree that this rose is beautiful‖ if in fact it is. However, beauty cannot be reduced to any
more basic set of features.
Baumgarten's reappraisal of aesthetics is often seen as a key moment in the development
of aesthetic philosophy. Previously the word aesthetics had merely meant "sensibility" or
"responsiveness to stimulation of the senses" in its use by ancient writers. With the development
of art as a commercial enterprise linked to the rise of a nouveau riche class across Europe, the
purchasing of art inevitably led to the question, "what is good art?" Baumgarten developed
aesthetics to mean the study of good and bad "taste", thus good and bad art, linking good taste with
By trying to develop an idea of good and bad taste, he also in turn generated philosophical
debate around this new meaning of aesthetics. Without it, there would be no basis for aesthetic
debate as there would be no objective criterion, basis for comparison, or reason from which one
could develop an objective argument.
Baumgarten appropriated the word aesthetics, which had always meant "sensation", to
mean taste or "sense" of beauty. In so doing, he gave the word a different significance, thereby
inventing its modern usage. The word had been used differently since the time of the ancient
Greeks to mean the ability to receive stimulation from one or more of the five bodily senses. In his
Metaphysic, § 607, Baumgarten defined taste, in its wider meaning, as the ability to judge
according to the senses, instead of according to the intellect. Such a judgment of taste he saw as
based on feelings of pleasure or displeasure. A science of aesthetics would be, for Baumgarten, a
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deduction of the rules or principles of artistic or natural beauty from individual "taste". Baumgarten
may have been motivated to respond to Pierre Bonhours' (b.1666) opinion, published in a pamphlet
in the late 17th century, that Germans were incapable of appreciating art and beauty.
Schiller (1759-1805) indicated that aesthetic appreciation of beauty is the most perfect
reconciliation of the sensual and rational parts of human nature.
Schiller’s Book “Briefe über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen” meaning; (On the
Aesthetic Education of Man), inspired by Kant, develops further the theory of the disinterested
character of the aesthetic. Schiller argues that through this disinterested quality aesthetic
experience becomes the true vehicle of moral and political education, providing human beings
both with the self-identity that is their fulfillment and with the institutions that enable them to
What is man before beauty cajoles from him a delight in things for
their own sake, or the serenity of form tempers the savagery of life?
A monotonous round of ends, a constant vacillation of judgment;
self-seeking, and yet without a self; lawless, yet without freedom; a
slave, and yet to no rule. (109)
Schiller’s Briefe exerted a profound influence on Hegel’s philosophy in general and on his
Vorlesungen über die Aesthetik in particular. In discussions of remarkable range and imaginative
power, Hegel introduces the distinctively modern conception of art as a request for self-realization,
an evolving discovery of forms that give sensuous embodiment to the spirit by articulating in
concrete form its inner tensions and resolutions.
Hegel (1770-1831) According to the New Encyclopedia, all culture is a matter of "absolute
spirit" coming to be manifested to itself, stage by stage. Art is the first stage in which the absolute
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spirit is manifested immediately to sense-perception, and is thus an objective rather than subjective
revelation of beauty.
For Hegel, the arts are arranged in both historical and intellectual sequence, from
architecture (in which Geist [“spirit”] is only half articulate and given purely symbolic expression),
through sculpture and painting, to music and thence to poetry, which is the true art of the
Romantics. Finally, all art is destined to be superseded by philosophy, in which the spirit achieves
final articulation as Idea. The stages of art were identified by Hegel with various stages of historical
development. In each art form a particular Zeitgeist (i.e., spirit of the time) finds expression, and
the necessary transition from one art form to its successor is part of a larger historical
transformation in which all civilization is engaged.
The incidental discussions of Hegel’s Vorlesungen introduces most of the themes of
contemporary philosophy of art, though in the peculiar language of Hegelian Idealism. Nineteenth-
century Idealist aesthetics can reasonably be described as a series of footnotes to Hegel, who was,
however, less original than he pretended. Many of the individual thoughts and theories in his
lectures on aesthetics were taken from the contemporary literature of German Romanticism (in
particular, the writings of Herder, Jean Paul [pseudonym of Johann Paul Friedrich Richter] and
Novalis) and from the works of German critics and art historians (notably G.E. Lessing and Johann
Winckelmann) who had forged the link between modern conceptions of art and the art of antiquity.
The influence of Hegel was, therefore, the influence of German Romanticism as a whole, and it is
not surprising that the few who escaped it lost their audience in doing so.
Schopenhauer (1788-1860) aesthetic contemplation of beauty is the most free that the pure
intellect can be from the dictates of will; here we contemplate perfection of form without any kind
of worldly agenda, and thus any intrusion of utility or politics would ruin the point of the beauty.
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The British were largely divided into intuitionist and analytic camps. The intuitionists believed
that aesthetic experience was disclosed by a single mental faculty of some kind. For the Earl of
Shaftesbury this was identical to the moral sense, beauty is just the sensory version of moral
Arthur Schopenhauer's aesthetics result from his philosophical doctrine of the primacy of
the metaphysical Will as the Kantian thing-in-itself, the ground of life and all being. In his chief
work, The World as Will and Representation, Schopenhauer thought that if consciousness or
attention is fully engrossed, absorbed, or occupied with the world as painless representations or
images, then there is no consciousness of the world as painful willing. Aesthetic contemplation of
a work of art provides just such a state—a temporary liberation from the suffering that results from
enslavement to the will [need, craving, urge, striving] by becoming a will-less spectator of "the
world as representation" [mental image or idea]. Art, according to Schopenhauer, also provides
essential knowledge of the world’s objects in a way that is more profound than science or everyday
experience. Schopenhauer claimed that art provides knowledge of eternal Platonic Ideas and also
results in temporary relief from the pressures of willing.
Schopenhauer's aesthetic theory is introduced in Book 3 of The World as Will and
Representation, Vol. 1, and developed in essays in the second volume. He provides an explanation
of the beautiful (German: Schönheit) and the sublime (Das Erhabene), a hierarchy among the arts
(from architecture, landscape gardening, sculpture and painting, poetry, etc. all the way to music,
the pinnacle of the arts since it is a direct expression of the will), and the nature of artistic genius.
Schopenhauer's aesthetic philosophy influenced artists and thinkers including composers
Richard Wagner and Arnold Schönberg, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and writers associated
with the Symbolist movement (Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Stephane Mallarmé, etc.)
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This refers to the general philosophy of beauty during the medieval period. Although Aes
thetics did not exist as a field of study during the Middle Ages, influential thinkers active during
the period did discuss the nature of beauty and thus an understanding of medieval aesthetics can
be obtained from their writings.
Medieval aesthetics is characterized by its synthesis of Classical and Christian conceptions
of beauty. The thought of Aristotle and Plato, framed by that of the Neoplatonist Plotinus, placed
an emphasis on concepts such as harmony, light, and symbolism By contrast, readings of
the Bible inspired an interrogation of the relationship between nature and the divine.
writings of St Augustine and Pseudo-Dionysius integrated Plato and Plotinus with early Church
Doctrine, while St Thomas Aquinas incorporated Aristotelian philosophy into his discussion of
beauty in nature. The theological concerns of these writers meant that their aesthetic theories were
relatively neglected post-Enlightenment, but their influence had been extensive, especially during
the Renaissance. In recent times, the works of Spanish director Luis Buñuel have been inspired by
medieval theories of beauty.
Plato (428-347 BCE), in the Symposium made the notion of inner beauty as more valuable than
material beauty. Beauty is therefore aligned with the Good and this definition makes it compatible
with Christian spirituality.
Plato's theory of the forms underlies much of the writings of St Augustine and Pseudo-
Dionysius. The theory refers to the way in which material objects are merely the reflection or
attempt at representation of a perfect, abstract reality. Within Plato's framework, these pure forms
of reality are determined by a demiurge, but the Christian interpretation of Plato by Augustine and
Dionysius holds that the forms mirror the perfection of God's own mind This notion underlies the
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more significant notion of mimesis, whereby art and material beauty are considered the mere
reflection of the beauty of that realm.
Plato had a love-hate relationship with the arts. He must have had some love for the arts,
because he talks about them often, and his remarks show that he paid close attention to what he
saw and heard. He was also a fine literary stylist and a great story-teller; in fact he is said to have
been a poet before he encountered Socrates and became a philosopher. Some of his dialogues are
real literary masterpieces. On the other hand, he found the arts threatening. He proposed sending
the poets and playwrights out of his ideal Republic, or at least censoring what they wrote; and he
wanted music and painting severely censored. The arts, he thought, are powerful shapers of
character. Thus, to train and protect ideal citizens for an ideal society, the arts must be strictly
Plato's influence on western culture generally is a very strong one, and this includes a
strong influence on the arts, and on theories of art. In the case of the arts and aesthetic theory that
influence is mostly indirect, and is best understood if one knows a little bit about his philosophy.
Beauty, Justice, and The Circle are all examples of what Plato called Forms or Ideas. Other
philosophers have called them Universals. Many particular things can have the form of a circle, or
of justice, or beauty. For Plato, these Forms are perfect Ideals, but they are also more real than
physical objects. He called them "the Really Real". The world of the Forms is rational and
unchanging; the world of physical appearances is changeable and irrational, and only has reality
to the extent that it succeeds in imitating the Forms. The mind or soul belongs to the Ideal world;
the body and its passions are stuck in the muck of the physical world. So the best human life is one
that strives to understand and to imitate the Forms as closely as possible. That life is the life of the
mind, the life of the Philosopher (literally, the lover of wisdom). Self-control, especially control
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of the passions, is essential to the soul that wants to avoid the temptations of sensuality, greed, and
ambition, and move on to the Ideal World in the next life.
Of course there is a lot more to Plato’s philosophy than this; but this is enough background
to begin explaining his views about the arts.
Aristotle (384-322 BCE) followed Plato's approach in the Hippias Major and the Gorgias,
positing the inferiority of smell, taste and touch by connecting aesthetic experience with the higher
sensations of sight and sound.
In Poetics he established some grounds for the medieval argument
that the beautiful can be equated with the good as 'he believed a tragedy could cleanse negative
emotions such as fear and pity'. Both Plato and Artistotle believed in unchanging rational essences,
or Forms, which shape everything we know. Both of them believed that nothing can be understood
without grasping its form. (The word "information" is derived from their philosophies; literally, it
means taking the form of something into one's mind, and letting that form shape the mind.)
Aristotle differed with Plato over what he called "the separation of the forms." Plato insisted that
the Forms were the true reality, and that the world of appearances copies them. Aristotle held that
Forms are never separated from things in this way. The one exception to this is the "unmoved
Mover", which is pure Form. It is the goal toward which all things strive. For present purposes we
can safely ignore it. Everything we are acquainted with is made of matter which is formed in some
way or other. There is no form without content (or matter), and no matter without form. The
essential form of anything defines what it is, and provides the driving force for that thing's
existence and development. Everything strives to "grow into" its form, and the form defines what
the thing can potentially become. So, for example, an acorn has the Form of an oak tree. That it
has that form is not obvious from looking at it; but under the right circumstances, an oak tree is
what it will become.
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Aristotle took time and change more seriously than did Plato. Not surprisingly, he was also
somewhat more-friendly to the passions than was Plato; though he, too, thought that the moral
virtues were various habits of rational control over the passions.
Like Plato, Aristotle thought that art involved imitation (mimesis), though on this point as
on many others he was flexible and allowed for exceptions. He also thought harder than Plato
about what art imitated. For example, he says that Tragedy is an imitation "not of persons but of
action and life, of happiness and misery" (Poetics 1451b). Thus he leans toward the "art as
imitation of the ideal" theory that Plato might have developed, but never did.
These themes are developed in connection with the arts in Aristotle's Poetics. Rather than shying
away from Greek drama, as Plato did, because of the way that it arouses the passions, Aristotle
embraced this characteristic. One famous element of his aesthetics is his theory of the katharsis,
or purging of the emotions "through pity and fear", that is accomplished by a tragedy. While he
does not develop this theory at any length (it occurs in only a few lines of the Poetics), it has had
a lot of influence. Aristotle does seem to have believed that this emotional katharsis was a good
thing, and thus he seems to have embraced an aspect of the arts that Plato rejected.
Plotinus (205-270 AD) is notable for his writings about beauty, which form a substantial part of
what has come to be known as Neoplatonism. Plotinus particularly influenced medieval aesthetics
by expanding the notion of beauty so that it was not exclusively conceived in terms of symmetry.
The Neoplatonic philosopher Plotinus provided two main contributions to guide medieval
thinking on aesthetics. First, Plotinus made it clear that beauty chiefly applies to the sense of sight
and hearing (Plotinus I.6.1), which was maintained in the Middle Ages. This notion is not only a
contribution to a theory of beauty, but it delineates two senses as having primacy over the others
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for the acquisition of knowledge. And beauty, for the medieval philosophers, was frequently
connected with knowledge.
Second, Plotinus argued against the notion that proportion is the primary component of
beauty. “Almost everyone declares that symmetry of parts towards each other and towards a whole,
with, besides, a certain charm of color, constitutes the beauty recognized by the eye, that in visible
things, as indeed in all else, universally, the beautiful thing is essentially symmetrical, patterned”
(Plotinus I.6.1). Plotinus proceeds to argue that simple things could not be beautiful, if symmetry
was the only component of beauty. In other words, only compound things could be beautiful in a
proper sense, if beauty depended on symmetry. Moreover, only the whole object would be
beautiful, not its parts. The problem, for Plotinus, is that if something is beautiful, it must be
composed of beautiful parts. If the parts are not symmetrical in themselves, then they could not be
beautiful. This fact leads to an absurd conclusion, according to Plotinus; namely, a beautiful object
could be composed of ugly parts. Plotinus does not suggest that symmetry is irrelevant or
unnecessary for beauty; his point is that symmetry cannot be the only standard by which to measure
an object’s beauty.
St. Augustine (354-430 AD) stated that the notion of beauty's objective existence is one of his
most fundamental ideas. He writes that beauty is objective and that this objectivity is external to
humans, who can contemplate beauty without having created it. Augustine wrote that something
'pleases because it is beautiful'. He highlighted that beauty is, in and of itself, an indispensable
aspect of creation; it is inherently harmonious and its existence aligns with humanity's deepest, but
'proper' desires because measure, form and order make something good. In his work, On
Music, Augustine asserts that beauty is the unity of disparate parts, such as lines, colors and sounds.
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