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This is fascinating stuff, but I'm not sure I have a solid grasp of Kant's ideas. It seems that Kant is saying:

0. Beauty is entirely separate from utility (as a product of "entirely disinterested satisfaction")

1. We are all born with an innate sense of aesthetics. (We all "ought" to agree that certain things possess a "free beauty")
I. This innate sense can be unlearned with experience
II. This innate sense stems from some "supersensible substrate of humanity"
a. We cannot understand this "substrate" since it is an "undeterminable concept". This concept is undeterminable because it is a fundamental element of how we perceive reality, and so we cannot perceive this concept without having that very concept shape our perceptions

2. When one gains a unique set of life experiences, one also gains new and unique senses of aesthetics ("dependent beauty")

3. The "sublime" is like "beauty" only even more totally awesome

Thus, objective aesthetic taste is impossible to define, because -- although we all begin life with the same taste -- the source of this innate sense is inherently unknowable, as it is bound up in our very perception of reality. Further, this innate aesthetic taste is inevitably modified through experience.


Assuming I have a reasonable understanding of Kant's ideas (and please correct me where I don't), I largely agree, though I have the following problems:

0. Must the "entirely disinterested satisfaction" sensation evoked by a beautiful thing be entirely separate from all other (utilitarian) forms of satisfaction one derives from that beautiful thing?
EX0: If I view a painting and feel pleasure, must I separate out the (utilitarian) pleasures of learning about color, form, composition, as well as the enjoyment derived from thinking about concepts the painting suggests, along with any other enjoyment that could possibly be even indirectly useful to me -- and whatever pleasure remains (if any) is the "entirely disinterested satisfaction" of the painting's "free beauty"?
EX1: Similarly, if I simplify a practically useful mathematical equation to a more elegant form, must I separate out the (utilitarian) pleasures of furthering my understanding of practically useful mathematics and finding a way to more effectively explain these mathematics to others along with any other enjoyment that could possibly be even indirectly useful to me, and whatever pleasure remains (if any) is the "entirely disinterested satisfaction" of the simplified equation's "free beauty"?

If this is true, I conclude that I perceive very little "free beauty", since the vast majority of pleasure I experience has some utility, though that utility is often very abstract.


1. I have the vague sense that there might be some way of effectively studying concepts that are fundamental elements of how we perceive reality, but I don't think I know the right things to mount a coherent argument.


Great stuff, Chris! Thanks for writing it. :)

Nathan: thanks for your kind words! I haven't looked at the first part of this serial for a while as I've been adapting the second part into a book, but I think I remember enough of Kant's comments on beauty to respond to your comments.

You seem to have understood his position well enough (although I'm not sure he specifically says the innate sense of beauty is 'unlearned' so much as supplemented by certain specific forms).

"3. The "sublime" is like "beauty" only even more totally awesome"

This is, actually, pretty much what Kant does say. :) Although 'sublime' for Kant is beyond beauty by having an element of awe and majesty to it - beauty moves you, but the sublime moves you with a sense of fear or trepedation as well.

"Thus, objective aesthetic taste is impossible to define, because -- although we all begin life with the same taste -- the source of this innate sense is inherently unknowable, as it is bound up in our very perception of reality. Further, this innate aesthetic taste is inevitably modified through experience."

Not necessarily impossible to define, but difficult to disentangle from what is learned. It is in the appreciation of nature that Kant suggests we come face to face with our innate aesthetic sense.

"0. Must the "entirely disinterested satisfaction" sensation evoked by a beautiful thing be entirely separate from all other (utilitarian) forms of satisfaction one derives from that beautiful thing?"

This question about separating out elements of pleasure is a very contemporary way of looking at this - since pragmatically you simply cannot decompose experience so neatly into separate boxes. While Kant certainly says that the beauty of a painting is seperate (for instance) from the pleasures of understanding its technical and formal composition, this doesn't necessarily mean you need to subtract these other pleasures to recognise the experience of beauty. I suspect Kant would view this other layer of pleasure as being closer to dependent beauty, but practically any experience of human-made art is going to collide these two experiences of beauty to some degree.

"EX1: Similarly, if I simplify a practically useful mathematical equation to a more elegant form..."

I'm uncertain Kant would recognise beauty in the case of the mathematical equation, but it's tricky since Kant seems to have a deep connection with mathematics - but not one he expressly deems aesthetic. I think you might need a better Kant scholar than myself to answer this one! :)

Glad you enjoyed this serial!

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