(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Since its publication, The Critique of Judgment has been of highest importance to the philosophy of art and of religion. It met opposition as radically skeptical and destructive of theology; indeed, Immanuel Kant intended to set limits on religious thinking. It opened promising new pathways in aesthetics, still found highly worthy of exploration.

The work is based wholly on the psychology of faculties and the logic Kant adopted in Kritik der reinen Vernunft (1781; The Critique of Pure Reason, 1838) and Kritik der praktischen Vernunft (1788; The Critique of Practical Reason, 1873). The former treats the faculty of understanding, which, presupposing natural law, brings people their knowledge of nature. The latter treats reason (“practical” reason, will, or desire), which presupposes freedom and legislates for people in accordance with moral law. While writing the first two critiques, Kant believed that the faculty of pleasure and pain could have no critique, being passive only. However, he came to regard this faculty to be the same as judgment, which subsumes representations under concepts, always accompanied by a feeling-response. He declared finally that judgment could have a regulative critique of its own, showing its functions and limitations, even though the faculty brings us no objective knowledge. Indeed, The Critique of Judgment would show the ground of union...

(The entire section is 422 words.)

The Principle of Judgment

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

The deduction of the principle of judgment is crucial to the book. “Judgment in general,” says Kant, “is the faculty of thinking the particular as contained under the universal.” Either the universal or the particular might be given. If the universal is given, then the judgment that brings the particular under it is determinant; the judgment brings knowledge according to a priori law and with finality. However, if the particular is given, then the judgment must find for itself a law to judge by, in the absence of a concept. Hence it is reflective, and if the judgments delivered are to be regarded as laws, this must be on the assumption of some underlying unifying principle. The principle must be this: As universal laws of nature have their ground in our understanding (as shown in The Critique of Judgment), particular empirical laws must be considered in accordance with such a unity as they would have if an understanding had furnished them to our cognitive faculties, so as to make possible a system of experience according to particular laws of nature. The concept of an actual object contains its purpose; the principle of judgment that we take, then, on these suppositions, is purposiveness in nature. (For nature to realize a purpose would be to carry out a “particular law of nature.”) If nature were guided by an understanding, then purposiveness would underlie its variety as the unifying factor. This concept of...

(The entire section is 562 words.)

Aesthetic Judgment

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

True to his critical logic, Kant considers in turn the quality, quantity, relation, and modality of the judgment of taste, in a subdivision called the “Analytic of the Aesthetical Judgment.” Then in its “Dialectic,” he resolves an antinomy or contradiction that arises in aesthetics.

By the aesthetical, Kant means that element whose determining ground can be no other than subjective. Consequently, the aesthetic apprehension does not depend on existential relations of the judged object with other things (its usefulness, for example) but only on the relation of the representation of the object to the observing subject. In contrast, the pleasant and the good always involve a representation not only of the object but also of some connection of the judging subject with that object; hence, they bring an interested rather than a free satisfaction. Taste is the faculty of judging of an object, or of the method of representing one, by a satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) which as to quality is entirely disinterested. The object of such satisfaction is called beautiful.

Because the satisfaction does not depend on a particular relationship with a particular subject, it may be thought of as resting on something present in everyone and hence binding universally. Because this element inheres in the subject, not in the objects judged, the quantity is a “subjective universality.” What we postulate is that all rational minds are...

(The entire section is 576 words.)

Judgment of the Sublime

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

The judgment of the sublime has the same quality, quantity, relation, and modality as that of the beautiful, but there are important differences. The beautiful pleases through its form and its bounds, but the sublime is found when a formless object is represented as boundless, even though its totality is present in thought. Hence, while beauty is a satisfaction in quality, the sublime is a satisfaction in respect to quantity. Furthermore, in the sublime, the form may seem to violate purposiveness and be quite unsuited to our presentative faculty. It rather should be said that the object is fit for the presentation of a sublimity found in the mind, producing in us a feeling of purposiveness of our powers, independent of nature.

The sublime has two kinds: the mathematical and the dynamic. Whereas that of the beautiful is restful, the judgment of the sublime stirs a movement of the mind that is judged as subjectively purposive and is referred either to the cognition, generating (A) the mathematically sublime, or to the will, generating (B) the dynamically sublime.

With regard to (A), we can always think something still greater than whatever the senses give us. While we cannot have an intuition of the infinite, which is absolutely great, we can comprehend it logically. To do this without contradiction presupposes a supersensible faculty. Thus we refer to the ideas of reason (God, freedom, immortality). Comparing the objects of nature, however grand, with these ideas, we gain a feeling of respect for our own destination according to the law of reason.

With regard to (B), on observing in nature mighty objects from which we are in no danger, if we can think of a case in which we would fear them, we feel the emotion of the sublime. It calls up a comparison with our own power, which is small physically but which, in our rational faculty, has a superiority to nature even in its immensity, in the sublimity of the mind’s destination.

The judgment of either kind of sublime is thus not so much upon the object but on our state of mind in the estimation of it. Like the judgment of the beautiful, the judgment of the sublime postulates a common faculty, in this case the feeling for the legislation of reason—that is, for what is moral.


(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

The sequel of the study of purposiveness in nature without purpose is the study of the basis of judging nature as having purpose—the “Critique of the Teleological Judgment.” We have absolutely no grounds to ascribe purpose objectively to nature, but must regard purpose as a principle supplied by ourselves for bringing this phenomenon of nature under rules wherever the laws of mechanical causality do not suffice to do so.

A purpose is a concept that functions as a cause of that of which it is the concept. In order to see the possibility of a thing as a purpose, it is a requisite that its form is not possible according to natural laws and that the empirical knowledge of its cause and effect presupposes concepts of reason. The things regarded as natural purposes are organized, living beings. The understanding takes causes to be immediate preceding conditions (efficient causes) of their effects, but the reason can think a final cause. For a thing to be a natural purpose, its parts must be possible only through their reference to the whole, and they should so combine in the unity of the whole that they are reciprocally cause and effect of each other. Thus nothing is in vain in it. The being so constituted may be regarded as the product of both efficient causes and final causes, an organized and self-organizing being—in a word, a natural purpose. Organized beings give the basis for teleology, as they first afford objective reality to the concept of a natural purpose. >From regarding them, we are carried further, reflectively to regard the mechanism of all of nature as subordinated according to principles of reason.

The reflective judgment must subsume presentations under a law not yet given; hence, it must serve as principle for itself. Therefore it...

(The entire section is 732 words.)

The Moral Law

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

The moral law, as the rational condition of the use of our freedom, obliges us a priori (as shown in The Critique of Practical Reason) to strive for the highest good in the world possible through freedom. The highest physical good is happiness. However, reason supposes virtue to be the worthiness to be happy, and it is impossible to represent virtue and happiness as connected by natural causes or as harmonized in life. Thus, to represent to ourselves a final purpose consistent with the moral law, we must assume a moral world cause. While the final purpose cannot be regarded as having objective reality, it has subjective practical reality by being embodied in our actions toward the highest good. Through it we gain the possibility of thinking the world has a purposive order, although we gain no proof of the existence of its original Being. “For the existence of the original Being as a Godhead, or of the soul as an immortal spirit, absolutely no proof in a theoretical point of view is possible.” Faith (as habitus or disposition, not act) is the moral attitude of reason toward belief in something unattainable by theoretical cognition. The mind assumes that, since it is so commanded, the duty to attain the highest good is possible to fulfill. It has grounds for such a faith in the faculty of the reason freely to legislate in accordance with the moral law. Only freedom, among the three pure rational ideas—God, freedom, and immortality—proves its objective reality by its effects in nature; thus it renders possible the reconciliation in thought and nature of God, immortality, and freedom.


(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Additional Reading

Allison, Henry E. Idealism and Freedom: Essays on Kant’s Theoretical and Practical Philosophy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. An important interpreter of Immanuel Kant explores relationships between Kant’s theory of knowledge and his moral philosophy.

Bohman, James, and Matthias Lutz-Backmann, eds. Perpetual Peace: Essays on Kant’s Cosmopolitan Ideal. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1997. The contributors appraise Kant’s theories about and hopes for a universal rationality that would encourage shared moral understanding and reduce political conflict.


(The entire section is 468 words.)