Topics Worth Investigating

  1. Clearly Kant rules out ęsthetic relativism:

    …to this extent it is not open to men to say: "Every one has his own taste." This would be equivalent to saying that there is no such thing at all as taste …[1]

    Yet, Kant freely admits in the same reference:

    With the agreeable, therefore, the axiom holds good: Every one has his own taste (that of sense).

    Explain the meaning of these two quotations, and explain their compatibility.

  2. Compare Kant's empirical criterion of taste with David Hume's criteria of judgment of taste as described in Hume's "Of the Standard of Taste." Be sure to keep in mind Kant's distinction between the imagination and the understanding:

    First, there is the ęsthetic normal idea, which is an individual intuition (of the imagination). This represents the norm by which we judge of a man as a member of a particular animal species. Secondly, there is the rational idea. This deals with the ends of humanity so far as capable of sensuous representation, and converts them into a principle for estimating his outward form, through which these ends are revealed in their phenomenal effect. The normal idea must draw from experience…[2]

    Does either philosopher hold that the standard is objective and can resolve disagreements about what is beautiful? Is either philosopher committed to the existence of an ideal of beauty?

  3. Evaluate Kant's distinctions among (1) the agreeable: general empirical rules of taste—not universal but commonly shared among men, (2) the beautiful: subjective universality: a universality which does not rest upon concepts— valid for all men because of its independent from interest, (3) the good: objective universal validity—valid for everything which is contained under a given concept, an objective finality conceptually definable.

  4. Kant writes, "The judgement of taste, therefore, and beauty depends on our presupposing the existence of a common sense … the effect arising from the free play of our powers of cognition and imagination."[3] How does Kant use of the term "free play"? Compare with Schiller's use of the term "play instinct" or "play impulse"—the synthesis of the sensuous and the formal impulse whose object is the beautiful.[4]

  5. Explain Kant's definition of beauty as defined in his four moments drawn from the categories: (1) quality, (2) quantity, (3) relation, and (4) modality. How effective are his arguments for each moment?

  6. Kant writes, "Every one must allow that a judgement on the beautiful which is tinged with the slightest interest, is very partial and not a pure judgement of taste.…" Vernon Lee argues that Kant's theory is a misleading metaphysical ęsthetics:

    [This theory] defines ęsthetic appreciation as disinterested interest, gratuitously identifying self-interest with the practical pursuit of advantages we have not yet got; and overlooking the fact that such appreciation implies enjoyment and is so for the very reverse of disinterested.[5]

    Kant seems to agree with Schopenhauer that the passions are silenced in the impartical contemplation of beauty. How does Kant's sense of "disinterested enjoyment" exclude an associated desire for an ęsthetic object?



Kant, Sec. 1, Bk. 1, ¶ 7.


Kant, Sec. 1, Bk. 1, ¶ 17.


Kant, Sec. 1, Bk. 1, ¶ 20.


Frederich Schiller. Letters on the Ęsthetical Education of Man. 1794. Translated by Tapio Riikonen and David Widger. In Literary and Philosophical Essays: French, German and Italian. New York: Collier. 1910. Letter XV.


Vernon Lee. The Beautiful: An Introduction to Psychological Ęsthetics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1913. 6.