TEras #9: Immanuel Kant - Judgment of Taste and Definiton of Beauty


Immanuel Kant. My first research of anything usually starts at Wikipedia, although the validity of the source is still questionable. Still an efficient start though…

Firstly, I read about him being mentioned by John Mcarthur and Naomi Stead in The Sage Handbook of Architectural Theory[1] where his ideas considered as strongest philosophical expression of modern ideas on aesthetic feelings and practices.[2] His philosiphical ideas in aesthetic related with theological theory; and his discussion ranges between churches and religious architecture. This notes related with his view of judgment of taste. 

Who is Kant?

Directly quoted from Wikipedia

Immanuel Kant (German: [ɪˈmaːnu̯eːl kant]; 22 April 1724 – 12 February 1804) was a German philosopher who is widely considered to be a central figure of modern philosophy. He argued that fundamental concepts structure human experience, and that reason is the source of morality. His thought continues to have a major influence in contemporary thought, especially the fields of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy, and aesthetics.[1]

Kant’s major books:  Critique of Pure Reason which dealt with logic. Critique of Practical Reason (Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, 1788), the Metaphysics of Morals (Die Metaphysik der Sitten, 1797), which dealt with ethics, and the Critique of Judgment (Kritik der Urteilskraft, 1790), which looks at aesthetics and teleology.

1.      The judgment of taste is aesthetic

The word ‘aesthetic’ itself, according to Oxford Dictionary, is developed in late 18th century. It is spoken as ‘relating to perception by the senses’. Aesthetics origin is from Greek aisthētikos, fromaisthēta 'perceptible things', from aisthesthai 'perceive'.

The sense 'concerned with beauty' was coined in German in the mid-18th century and adopted into English in the early 19th century, but its use was controversial until much later in the century.[3]

Aesthetic judgment in Kant terminology is a kind of judgment which is not logical, purely base on feeling. Later in the book, Kant gives the definition of Taste: “Taste is the faculty for judging an object or a kind of representation through a satisfaction or dissatisfaction without any interest”.[4] Andr he also gives definition of beautiful: “That is beautiful which pleases universally without concept”.[5] “Beauty is a form of the purposiveness of an object, insofar as it is perceived in it without representation of and end.”[6] The definition of purposiveness explained in 10th point. Last definition of beauty: “That is beautiful which is cognized without concept as the object of necessary satisfaction”.[7]

2.      The satisfaction that determines the judgment of taste is without interest

And he also give a definition of interest: a satisfaction that we combine with the representation of the existence of an object[8].

Interest /ˈɪnt(ə)rɪst  [MASS NOUN] The feeling of wanting to know or learn about something or someone: ‘she looked about her with interest[IN SINGULAR]: he developed an interest in art.[9]

After discuss this reading in my research group, I found that ‘interest’ that Kant uses means that the person can take benefit from the object, including benefit in form of pleasure feeling or satisfied the need.

This part reminds me of the book Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry[10] about how Little Prince’s interest in the Rose make his judgment of the flower too bias. However the judgment in this story is not related with beauty in appearance only, but also in inner quality. So probably this kind of judgment will be more related with Kant’s following explanation.

3.      The satisfaction in the agreeable is combined with interest

Kant’s definition of agreeable is: that which pleases the sense in sensation.[11] He explains that everything that please, just because it pleases, is agreeable.[12] And there is variation of agreeable sensations: graceful, lovely, enchanting, enjoyable, etc.

Please /pliːz/ [WITH OBJECT] 1 Cause to feel happy and satisfied: ‘he arranged a fishing trip to please his son’ [WITH OBJECT AND INFINITIVE]: ‘it pleased him to be seen with someone in the news’[13]
SensatioN /sɛnˈseɪʃ(ə)n NOUN 1 A physical feeling or perception resulting from something that happens to or comes into contact with the body: ‘a burning sensation in the middle of the chest’[14]

I have to say here that what I perceive from Kant’s point is that the term agreeable’ is constantly related with please. Referring to Kant’s explanation, agreeable is really subjective. It is a matter of whether the subject feel pleased no matter how the object is. Kant also states that ‘hence one says of the agreeable not merely that it pleases but that it gratifies.

Gratify /ˈɡratɪfʌɪ/ VERB (gratifies, gratifying, gratified) [WITH OBJECT] 1 Give (someone) pleasure or satisfaction: ‘she was gratified to see the shock in Jim’s eyes’ (as adjective gratifying) ‘the results were gratifying’ ORIGIN late Middle English (in the sense 'make pleasing'): from French gratifier or Latin gratificari 'give or do as a favour', from gratus 'pleasing, thankful'.[15]

Well, gratify is more to thankful feeling, I suppose.

4.      The satisfaction in the good is combined with interest

Concept of the good is more closely related to the usefulness. “…when I call something that gratifies at the same time good can be seen from the fact that in the case of the good there is always the question whether it is merely mediately good or immediately good (whether it is useful or good in itself)”.[16]

“In order to find something good, I must always know what sort of thing the object is supposed to be”.[17] It means that there is an interest to the object. Case closed.

5.      Comparison of the three specifically different kinds of satisfaction

This part is the conclusion. “Agreeable is that which everyone calls what gratifies him; beautiful, what merely pleases him (without interest - ed); good, what is esteemed, approved”.[18] And it also related with “to inclination, to favor, and to respect”.[19]

Esteem /ɪˈstiːm/ VERB [WITH OBJECT] 1 Respect and admire: ‘many of these qualities are esteemed by managers’ (as adjective, with submodifier esteemed) ‘a highly esteemed scholar’.[20]
Inclination /ɪnklɪˈneɪʃ(ə)n / [MASS NOUN] 1 A person’s natural tendency or urge to act or feel in a particular way; a disposition: ’John was a scientist by training and inclination’ ’Fanny showed little inclination to talk about anything serious’ [COUNT NOUN]: ‘he was free to follow his inclinations’ (inclination for/to/towards) An interest in or liking for (something): ‘my inborn inclination for things with moving parts’.[21]

In this part Kant refer to favor as the only free satisfaction.[22]

6.      The beautiful is that which, without concept, is represented as the object of a universal satisfaction.

The definition of beautiful in this part is deduced from “object satisfaction without any interest”.[23] In this term, someone who said that an object is beautiful must aware that universally everyone else will also call the object beautiful, not just himself. “…must contain a ground of satisfaction for everyone…”[24]

7.      Comparison of the beautiful with the agreeable and the good through the above characteristic

Can I conclude that taste is universal according to Kant’s description?

8.      The universality of the satisfaction is represented in a judgment of taste only as subjective

I don’t understand this particular part, because the statement itself is contradictive. How can the judgment of taste become universal and subjective at the same time? Is that means that within everyone there is a same barometer to judge the object beautiful or not at the first glimpse (without interest)?

9.      Investigation of the question: whether in the judgment of taste the feeling of pleasure precedes the judging of the object or the later precedes the former

How and whether aesthetic judgment a priori is possible? So the judgment, even though singular and without comparison to others, is in agreement with the condition of universality.

10.  On purposiveness in general

Can I say that purposiveness is the essential quality of the object? This purposiveness related to the essential from in which the object should being represented. And in this part it is important to remember that in a pure judgment we better don’t know about the function or the concept of the object.

11.  The judgment of taste has nothing but the form of the purposiveness of an object (or the way of representing it) as its ground

In this part Kant discuss about the mere form of purposiveness of the object that is given to us, can constitute the satisfaction that we judge. [25] I want to ground a question: is this related to honesty, simplicity and banal representation of the object, is purposiveness is indeed an essential quality of the object?

12.  The judgment of taste rests on a priori ground

A priori means that it is deduced from theory or already within human being, not from observation or experiments

13.  The pure judgment of taste is independent from charm and emotion

Pure judgment is without interest. Ok. But when I read this part I am actually confused. Judgment of taste is based on feeling – it’s aesthetic. How can it be detached from emotion? Because emotion means there is an interest in there? It is actually explained later in 14th point.

14.  Elucidation by means of examples

Aesthetic judgment can be divided into empirical and pure. The more simple the form, the more pure the judgment. (?) An object doesn’t have to have charm in order to be called beautiful. Kant gives a definition of emotion: a sensation in which agreeableness is produced only by means of a momentarily inhibition followed by a stronger outpouring of the vital force.[26]

15.  The judgment of taste is entirely independent from the concept of perfection

Because perfection needs concept. Simply.

16.  The judgment of taste through which an object is declared to be beautiful under the condition of a determinate concept is not pure

In this part he gives an example of flower and botanist. How we, ordinary people can judge the beauty of the flower purely because we are detached from all the knowledge of the structure, function, system, of the flower. This situation also applied to architect when judging a building. Can an architect judge a taste of building with all the concept that he has about architecture.

17.  On the ideal of beauty

In this part Kant tries to explain that the faculty of judgment of taste is empirically shown deeply buried in all human being, of unanimity in the judging of forms under which objects are given to them.[27]And it means that some products of taste are regarded as exemplary or could be acquired by imitating others. I want to give simple example here. When we first learn how to judge taste of food whether it is sour, sweet, salty, spicy, etc. We recognize the taste itself instantly but we learn how to address the taste from others. The parent said “this is sweet” while we taste honey and sugar, so we recognize that kind of sense we experience on our tongue is sweet.

But as it is already discussed before. Beauty is universal and the judgment of taste is without interest.
Kant gives definition of idea: a concept of reason; and ideal: the representation of an individual being adequate to an idea. While talking about the ideal beauty then it is not speaking about the pure judgment of taste anymore, but a partly intellectualized judgment of taste.

There are two elements involved: the aesthetic normal idea = an individual intuition; and the idea of reason = more closely with the experience gathered from nature. There is an example, what if, the ideal is empirically processed within the human, because the idea of reason is gathered from experience of nature. Then Chinese people, white people, Indonesian people will have different kind of ideal beauty. And then the beauty is about the correctness of the species, the correctness within a Chinese beauty only, for example. The judgment of ideal beauty, then, is not a pure judgment of taste. This judgment with standard can never be purely aesthetic.

18.  What the modality of a judgment of taste is

That the judgment of taste at least possibly combined with a pleasure.

19.  The subjective necessity that we ascribe to the judgment of taste is conditioned

What is the condition? That all the data that are required for the judging is given, as the rule of approval of everyone else. The judgment should be also common to all.

20.  Condition of necessity that is alleged by a judgment of taste is the idea of a common sense

So in this part Kant gives a definition of common sense: “a subjective principle, which determines what pleases or displeases only through feeling and not through concept, but yet with universal validity.”[28] And the term common sense is different with collective majority census/ opinion.

21.  Whether one has good reason to presuppose a common sense

The universal communicability presupposes a common sense. The common sense actually must be able to be assumed with good reason, and indeed without appeal to psychological observations, but rather as the necessary condition of the universal communicability of our cognition.[29]

22.  The necessity of the universal assent that is thought is a judgment of taste is a subjective necessity, which is represented as objective under the presupposition of a common sense

The most interesting explanation is even though the judgment of taste is universal and when we call something beautiful then everyone should agree; it does not say that everyone will agree. They should.

The little prince, San Diego :, Harcourt.


[1] MACARTHUR, J. & STEAD, N. 2012. Introduction: architecture and aesthetics. In: CRYSLER, C. G., STEPHEN, C. & HILDE, H. (eds.) The SAGE handbook of architectural theory. London, United Kingdom: Sage Publications. p.125
[2] Ibid.
[3] http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/aesthetic
[4] KANT, I. & GUYER, P. 2000. Critique of the power of judgment, Cambridge, UK ; New York, Cambridge University Press. p.96
[5] Ibid. p.104
[6] Ibid. p.120
[7] Ibid. p.124
[8] Ibid. p.90
[9] http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/interest
[10] SAINT-EXUPEЃRY, A. D. & HOWARD, R. 2000. Petit prince
The little prince, San Diego :, Harcourt.
[11] KANT, I. & GUYER, P. 2000. Critique of the power of judgment, Cambridge, UK ; New York, Cambridge University Press. p.91
[12] Ibid.
[13] http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/please
[14] http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/sensation
[15] http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/gratify
[16] KANT, I. & GUYER, P. 2000. Critique of the power of judgment, Cambridge, UK ; New York, Cambridge University Press. p.93
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid. p.95
[19] Ibid.
[20] http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/esteem
[21] http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/inclination
[22] KANT, I. & GUYER, P. 2000. Critique of the power of judgment, Cambridge, UK ; New York, Cambridge University Press. p.95
[23] Ibid. p.96
[24] Ibid. p.97
[25] Ibid. p.106
[26] Ibid. p.111
[27] Ibid. p.116
[28] Ibid. p.122
[29] Ibid. p.123

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