Reflection 2: Kant’s Account of the Beautiful

First Movement: Quality: Aesthetic judgments of the beautiful are based on feelings, specifically feelings of disinterested pleasure, which means that it does not depend on the subject’s desire for the object, nor does it generate such a desire. The disinterested character of the feeling distinguishes judgments of beauty from cognitive judgments based on perception, judgments of the agreeable (a sensuous experience that is pleasing), judgments of the good (pleasure from moral goodness), and judgments of the useful (pleasure from an object’s benefit).

Second Movement: Quantity: Aesthetic judgments of the beautiful have universal validity. That is, making a judgment of the beauty of an object involves an expectation that others also judge it to be beautiful. The universal validity of judgments of beauty are not based on concepts, and hence cannot be proven. This further distinguishes judgments of beauty from cognitive judgments and judgments of the agreeable, the good, and the useful. The subject believes that everyone will judge the object as beautiful. To experience judgments of the beautiful, the free play of the cognitive faculties (imagination and understanding) are in harmony.

Third Movement: Relation: Aesthetic judgments of the beautiful are purposive without a purpose. Beautiful objects delight our subjective purpose in representation without serving any other concrete purpose. Although artworks may have purposes behind their production (to express or communicate an idea or message), these are not necessary for the object to be beautiful. The experience of the beautiful is contemplative and reflective: it is when the subject has an openness to the object, which results in a peculiar relation to itself. The pleasure of the beautiful comes from the free play harmony of faculties, imagination and understanding, within the subject to represent the object. The beautiful emerges out of this harmony.

Fourth Moment: Modality: Aesthetic judgments of the beautiful involve an element of necessity to the universal validity. Not only does a person believe that everyone who perceives an object will share its pleasure and agree with the judgment of the beautiful, but everyone ought to do so. Similar to the case of universal validity, the necessity is not based on concepts or rules. Kant characterizes the necessity as exemplary and based on common sense, or sensis communis. This means that one’s judgment serves as an example of how everyone ought to judge, and it is defined as a subjective principle which allows judgments by feelings rather than concepts.

Reflection: I have very much enjoyed our study of Kant’s account of the beautiful. Our class lectures and discussion are thought-provoking and intriguing. In addition to recounting the theory of Kant’s account of the beautiful, I appreciated applying his account to a real example, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Looking at the pictures of the Sistine Chapel inspired within me a recollection of the moment when I first walked into the magnificent room and experienced the beauty of the masterpiece. This exercise really drove home Kant’s four moments for me. Next, I would like to try and apply Kant’s account of the beautiful to Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain. Although I understand how this piece is considered artwork because it pushed the boundaries of conventional art of its time, I am not sure I understand how someone could call it beautiful. Maybe that is because it isn’t beautiful, or maybe it just isn’t beautiful to me. It would be interesting to have a discussion on this.

Another part of our class I enjoyed was the conversation on free beauty and conditioned beauty. Free beauty does not make a statement or convey a message. Free beauty is nature. It inspires commonality and brings forth a connection with the whole. Free beauty is open to all – anyone can experience the beautiful and become enfolded within nature. On the other hand, conditioned beauty is tainted and restricted by concepts, cultures, and historical references. Conditioned beauty is art. It makes a statement and transmits a message to an audience. Conditioned beauty is empowering, inspiring, and engages the viewer in a collective purpose or project. It enfolds us within a culture and community. The distinction between free and conditioned beauty resonates with me because I have had many experiences where I could recognize the difference between beauty in nature and beauty in art, but had not been able to conceptualize it until now. There is a strong different experience involved in looking out onto Halong Bay, Vietnam and feeling free and connected to the natural world, than looking at a stunning Buddhist Monetary and feeling connected to the spirit and culture of Vietnam.

The only down side of our study of the beautiful, specifically the free beauty of nature, is that I am more than half temped to drop my pencil at any moment and leave society for the secluded mountaintops. I have been fortunate enough to have been to so many truly beautiful places, that sitting in a class room talking about the beautiful entices me to go out and experience the beautiful. As a visual and kinetic learner, I value hands on experiences. I want to go out on a hike or go to an art exhibit and try to find an experience of the beautiful. The memory of experiencing the beautiful, makes me question why I am sitting here trying to recollect past moments, when I could be out experiencing new moments of the beautiful now.


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