Immediate Judgment and Non-Cognitive Ideas: The Pervasive and Persistent in the Misreading of Kant’s Aesthetic Formalism

In Altman Matthew (ed.), Palgrave Kant Handbook. pp. 425-446 (2017)
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The key concept in Kant’s aesthetics is “aesthetic reflective judgment,” a critique of which is found in Part 1 of the Critique of the Power of Judgment (1790). It is a critique inasmuch as Kant unravels previous assumptions regarding aesthetic perception. For Kant, the comparative edge of a “judgment” implicates communicability, which in turn gives it a public face; yet “reflection” points to autonomy, and the “aesthetic” shifts the emphasis away from objective properties to the subjective response evoked by the object. Contrary to the view he had inherited, Kant did not treat aesthetic judgments as confused perceptions or inferior cognitions, but rather put them in a category of their own. For Kant, aesthetic reflective judgments implicated not only the processes involved in understanding the empirical world but also the processes involved in ascribing ideas or meaning to experience (which go beyond what is given in perception/cognition). This “going beyond cognition” may have been referred to by Kant as non-cognitive, but it is conditioned on a way of cognizing the object. Kant describes the features of such judgments in the Analytic of the Beautiful before addressing their possibility in subtle ways throughout the Deduction of Pure Aesthetic Judgments. Kant’s critique gives rise to three apparent dichotomies: immediate intuition and prior learning; autonomy and communicability; and non-cognitive response and aesthetic ideas. An interpretation of Kant’s theory can be deemed correct to the degree that it succeeds in showing that the contradictions are only apparent. I will argue that the resulting positive account of Kant’s aesthetic theory offers an understanding of aesthetic reflective judgment that is quite different from the standard formalism that the critics of formalism usually target and by which they misrepresent Kant’s aesthetic theory. When I refer to Kant’s formalism, then, I mean something quite different by this than what is meant by “standard formalism.” The latter is the representation given Kant’s formalism by its contemporary critics and is the typical account of formalism found in the art theory and philosophy of art literature, as will be demonstrated.



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Jennifer A. McMahon
University of Adelaide

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Liberal Naturalism , Aesthetic Reflection, and the Sublime.Jennifer A. McMahon - 2022 - In Mario De Caro & David Macarthur (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Liberal Naturalism. New York, NY: Routledge. pp. 281-298.

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