The Critique of Judgement, by Immanuel Kant

General Remark on the First Section of the Analytic

If we seek the result of the preceding analysis we find that everything runs up into this concept of Taste, that it is a faculty for judging an object in reference to the Imagination’s free conformity to law. Now if in the judgement of taste the Imagination must be considered in its freedom, it is in the first place not regarded as reproductive, as it is subject to the laws of association, but as productive and spontaneous (as the author of arbitrary forms of possible intuition). And although in the apprehension of a given object of sense it is tied to a definite form of this Object, and so far has no free play (such as that of poetry) yet it may readily be conceived that the object can furnish it with such a form containing a collection of the manifold, as the Imagination itself, if it were left free, would project in accordance with the conformity to law of the Understanding in general. But that the imaginative power should be free and yet of itself conformed to law, i.e. bringing antinomy with it, is a contradiction. The Understanding alone gives the law. If, however, the Imagination is compelled to proceed according to a definite law, its product in respect of form is determined by concepts as to what it ought to be. But then, as is above shown, the satisfaction is not that in the Beautiful, but in the Good (in perfection, at any rate in mere formal perfection); and the judgement is not a judgement of taste. Hence it is a conformity to law without a law; and a subjective agreement of the Imagination and Understanding — without such an objective agreement as there is when the representation is referred to a definite concept of an object — can subsist along with the free conformity to law of the Understanding (which is also called purposiveness without purpose) and with the peculiar feature of a judgement of taste.

Now geometrically regular figures, such as a circle, a square, a cube, etc., are commonly adduced by critics of taste as the simplest and most indisputable examples of beauty; and yet they are called regular, because we can only represent them by regarding them as mere presentations of a definite concept which prescribes the rule for the figure (according to which alone it is possible). One of these two must be wrong, either that judgement of the critic which ascribes beauty to the said figures, or ours, which regards purposiveness apart from a concept as requisite for beauty.

Hardly any one will say that a man must have taste in order that he should find more satisfaction in a circle than in a scrawled outline, in an equilateral and equiangular quadrilateral than in one which is oblique, irregular, and as it were deformed, for this belongs to the ordinary Understanding and is not Taste at all. Where, e.g. our design is to judge of the size of an area, or to make intelligible the relation of the parts of it, when divided, to one another and to the whole, then regular figures and those of the simplest kind are needed, and the satisfaction does not rest immediately on the aspect of the figure, but on its availability for all kinds of possible designs. A room whose walls form oblique angles, or a parterre of this kind, even every violation of symmetry in the figure of animals (e.g. being one-eyed), of buildings, or of flower beds, displeases, because it contradicts the purpose of the thing, not only practically in respect of a definite use of it, but also when we pass judgement on it as regards any possible design. This is not the case in the judgement of taste, which when pure combines satisfaction or dissatisfaction — without any reference to its use or to a purpose — with the mere consideration of the object.

The regularity which leads to the concept of an object is indeed the indispensable condition (conditio sine qua non) for grasping the object in a single representation and determining the manifold in its form. This determination is a purpose in respect of cognition, and in reference to this it is always bound up with satisfaction (which accompanies the execution of every, even problematical, design). There is here, however, merely the approval of the solution satisfying a problem, and not a free and indefinite purposive entertainment of the mental powers with what we call beautiful, where the Understanding is at the service of Imagination and not vice versa.

In a thing that is only possible by means of design — a building, or even an animal — the regularity consisting in symmetry must express the unity of the intuition that accompanies the concept of purpose, and this regularity belongs to cognition. But where only a free play of the representative powers (under the condition, however, that the Understanding is to suffer no shock thereby) is to be kept up, in pleasure gardens, room decorations, all kinds of tasteful furniture, etc., regularity that shows constraint is avoided as much as possible. Thus in the English taste in gardens, or in bizarre taste in furniture, the freedom of the Imagination is pushed almost near to the grotesque, and in this separation from every constraint of rule we have the case, where taste can display its greatest perfection in the enterprises of the Imagination.

All stiff regularity (such as approximates to mathematical regularity) has something in it repugnant to taste; for our entertainment in the contemplation of it lasts for no length of time, but it rather, in so far as it has not expressly in view cognition or a definite practical purpose, produces weariness. On the other hand that with which Imagination can play in an unstudied and purposive manner is always new to us, and one does not get tired of looking at it. Marsden in his description of Sumatra makes the remark that the free beauties of nature surround the spectator everywhere and thus lose their attraction for him.1 On the other hand a pepper-garden, where the stakes on which this plant twines itself form parallel rows, had much attractiveness for him, if he met with it in the middle of a forest. And hence he infers that wild beauty, apparently irregular, only pleases as a variation from the regular beauty of which one has seen enough. But he need only have made the experiment of spending one day in a pepper-garden, to have been convinced that, once the Understanding, by the aid of this regularity, has put itself in accord with the order that it always needs, the object will not entertain for long — nay rather it will impose a burdensome constraint upon the Imagination. On the other hand, nature, which there is prodigal in its variety even to luxuriance, that is subjected to no constraint of artificial rules, can supply constant food for taste. — Even the song of birds, which we can bring under no musical rule, seems to have more freedom, and therefore more for taste, than a song of a human being which is produced in accordance with all the rules of music; for we very much sooner weary of the latter, if it is repeated often and at length. Here, however, we probably confuse our participation in the mirth of a little creature that we love, with the beauty of its song; for if this were exactly imitated by man (as sometimes the notes of the nightingale are)1 it would seem to our ear quite devoid of taste.

Again, beautiful objects are to be distinguished from beautiful views of objects (which often on account of their distance cannot be clearly recognised). In the latter case taste appears not so much in what the Imagination apprehends in this field, as in the impulse it thus gets to fiction, i.e. in the peculiar fancies with which the mind entertains itself, whilst it is continually being aroused by the variety which strikes the eye. An illustration is afforded, e.g. by the sight of the changing shapes of a fire on the hearth or of a rippling brook; neither of these has beauty, but they bring with them a charm for the Imagination, because they entertain it in free play.

1 [See The History of Sumatra, by W. Marsden (London, 1783), p. 113.]

1 [Cf. § 42infra.]

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:48