Critique of Judgment (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Kant, the most revolutionary and important figure in Western philosophy since Aristotle, wrote the Critique of Judgment as the capstone of his trilogy of Critiques. Through its investigation of the beautiful and the sublime, it set the terms for modern aesthetics and art criticism. Its discussion of the significance of nature is important for theology and science alike. Most important, the third Critique's exploration of the contributions that scientific thinking and aesthetic sensitivity each make to our sense ...
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Critique of Judgment (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Kant, the most revolutionary and important figure in Western philosophy since Aristotle, wrote the Critique of Judgment as the capstone of his trilogy of Critiques. Through its investigation of the beautiful and the sublime, it set the terms for modern aesthetics and art criticism. Its discussion of the significance of nature is important for theology and science alike. Most important, the third Critique's exploration of the contributions that scientific thinking and aesthetic sensitivity each make to our sense of humanity remains of the most profound significance to anyone interested in morality and the development of culture.
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Immanuel Kant is the most revolutionary and important figure in Western philosophy since Aristotle. When people think of Kant's achievement, they typically think of the momentous implications of his "transcendental turn" as elaborated in the Critique of Pure Reason, or the majesty of his conception of the moral law presented in the Critique of Practical Reason. The doctrine of the Critique of Judgment, the last of the three Critiques forming the backbone of Kant's mature philosophy, is less well known. Yet it is this work that Kant himself intended to serve as the capstone of his system, both completing it and holding it together by integrating its other parts into a coherent, systematic whole. The Critique of Judgment's investigations of the beautiful and the sublime set the terms for modern aesthetics and art criticism, and its discussion of the ways in which scientific investigation can facilitate metaphysical reflections about the significance of nature is important for theology and science alike. Most important, the third Critique's exploration of the contributions that scientific thinking and aesthetic sensitivity each make to our sense of humanity remains of the most profound significance to anyone interested in morality and the development of culture.

It is a frequently noted irony that a thinker of such cosmopolitan sensibility and ideals as Kant never left the remote province in which he lived. Immanuel Kant was born on April 22, 1724, in Königsberg, East Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia), a multicultural city sometimes called the "Venice of the north." His parents were strictly religious members of the pietistmovement. Kant's father was a master harness maker, so his family was socially respectable but of fairly modest means. The family's church helped pay for Kant's education, and he attended the University of Königsberg from 1740 to 1746. He spent the next eleven years working as a private tutor to the children of various wealthy families in his home province. From 1755 to 1770, Kant worked as an instructor at his alma mater, lecturing on a variety of subjects, including mathematics, metaphysics, ethics, anthropology, geology, geography, and other natural sciences. He published several works during this time. His Universal Natural History and Theories of the Heavens (1755), for instance, made a major contribution to astrophysics by proposing the nebular hypothesis for the formation of planets; much of what came to be called the Kant-Laplace hypothesis is still thought accurate today. Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime (1764) constituted an early investigation of many of the issues that would receive a more mature treatment in the Critique of Judgment. In part because he was a very popular teacher, Kant was promoted to professor at the university in 1770, and he worked there until shortly before his death on February 12, 1804. Although the popular imagination has been captivated by old stories about Kant's habitual afternoon walks, allegedly so regular that local housewives would set their clocks according to the time of his passing by, his personality might be characterized more accurately by someone who knew him, the poet, historian, and philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder:
In the prime of life [Kant] had the happy cheerfulness of a youth, which, so I believe, accompanied him even in grey old age. His forehead, formed for thinking, was the seat of indestructible serenity and peace, the most thought-filled speech flowed from his lips, merriment and wit and humor were at his command, and his lecturing was discourse at its most entertaining. . . . [He] took up those works of Rousseau which were then appearing, Émile and Héloïse, just as he did every natural discovery known to him, evaluated them and always came back to unprejudiced knowledge of Nature and the moral worth of mankind. The history of nations and peoples, natural science, mathematics, and experience, were the sources from which he enlivened his lecture and converse; nothing worth knowing was indifferent to him; no cabal, no sect, no prejudice, no ambition for fame had the least seductiveness for him in comparison with furthering and elucidating truth. He encouraged and engagingly fostered thinking for oneself; despotism was foreign to his mind.
In 1781, Kant published the Critique of Pure Reason. In this text, he tries to defend the emerging Newtonian physics from skeptical attacks by proving that nature is known to be regulated by a thoroughgoing determinist causality: there is no randomness in nature, and all events are determined by a strict causal necessity. But it turns out that the project of achieving such certainty could succeed only at the price of limiting the scope of our knowledge. How so? Prior to Kant, the human perceptual and cognitive apparatus was assumed to mirror a separate, independent, and external world. The revolutionary idea driving the "transcendental turn" is that our perceptual and intellectual capacities do not just reflect or conform to the experienced world, but actively contribute to its structure. We project causality onto any conceptualization of events; it is as if, to use one of Kant's own analogies, human beings all wear space, time, and causality tinted glasses that can never be taken off. Thus Kant thinks that phenomenal nature is known to be saturated with causality simply because human beings are constituted in such a way that they can experience events in no other way but as effects of prior causes. Yet since all experience is tied inextricably to the conditions determined by our all too human capacities, we may no longer hope to know anything about things as they are in themselves, independent of any human contribution. (Kant sometimes refers to the hidden thing in itself as the "supersensible substrate" of experience.) In other words, space, time, and causality actually may be functions merely of human forms of experience; for angels, or aliens, the world may appear quite differently, although we human beings in our finitude have no conception of what those differences could be. Kant thinks of a "critique" of pure reason as an analysis delineating reason's nature and limits. The Critique's focus on the limits of reason thus has the result of depriving traditional metaphysics, which had focused on non-phenomenal or "transcendent" beings such as God and the soul, of any scientific legitimacy.

In 1783, Kant published the Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, a condensed and simplified statement of the doctrine of the Critique of Pure Reason, and, in 1785, the Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. The Critique of Practical Reason appeared in 1788. In the Foundations and this second Critique, Kant elaborates a conception of an absolutely authoritative and universally binding moral law that originates in the legislation of autonomous human reason, and a vision of humanity possessing a non-negotiable dignity in virtue of that autonomy. Our highest duty, an absolute obligation imposed upon us by our own reason, is to respect the inviolable moral worth of every rational being, to never regard the value of others as merely instrumental. The Critique of Judgment was published in 1790, and Kant meant for it to provide a transition between the theoretical and moral parts of the system as elaborated in the previous two Critiques. In 1793, Kant published Religion within the Bounds of Reason Alone, a text that led to a dispute with the Prussian government, which forbade him to teach about religious matters. (Kant took himself to be free from this prohibition upon the death of King Frederick William II in 1797.) In 1795, he published a work of political theory, Perpetual Peace, which argues for the importance of guiding international affairs by cosmopolitan principles and for a global federal system of free states. His last major work, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, appeared in 1798. Kant also published numerous important essays, including "What is Enlightenment?" (1784), the quintessential expression of the Enlightenment call for intellectual liberty, and "Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose" (1784), which advances the idea that history can be seen in terms of a rational progress toward a more just political situation.

Kant's transcendental philosophy has had wide influence. It made possible a genuinely new (if not uncontroversial) way of understanding the relation between humanity and the world. Different parts of his work have been of enormous interest to scholars and scientists in a broad array of fields and have had an impact on metaphysics and epistemology, legal theory, ethics, physics, the philosophy of science, theology, cultural anthropology, gestalt and cognitive psychology, literary theory, and linguistics. However, except for scholarship investigating its position at the basis of the discipline of aesthetics and its decisive influence on German idealism, the Critique of Judgment until recently has been comparatively neglected. Contemporary scholars have begun mining the text as part of an ongoing project of developing a more adequate understanding of the relation between human being and world than that bequeathed to us by the dominant philosophical tradition.

Many recent critics have argued that the Enlightenment's privileging of rationality has led to philosophical and scientific views that distort our humanity. Too often the human subject has been conceived primarily as a rational being, and the emotions and bodily drives have been misrepresented as disreputable sources of moral temptation and cognitive interference. Indeed, some critics argue that views minimizing the important contributions that emotional and spiritual responsiveness can make to moral and intellectual life have the result of cutting us off from the natural world. Thus we have inherited a set of alienating dualisms: subject/world, freedom/nature, culture/nature, mind/body, and reason/feeling.

The Critique of Judgment makes an immense contribution to contemporary efforts to overcome these divisions. The work takes as its subject matter two related fields of investigation. The first half of the book deals with the aesthetic experience of natural and artistic beauty and sublimity. The second part explores the manner in which scientists, especially in biology, employ teleological explanations in terms of purposes, as when one says that a stomach is "for" digesting, or speaks of "nature's foresight or parsimony." The two halves of the book are linked by Kant's notion of reflective judgment, of which aesthetic and teleological thinking are each instances. Reflective judgment is our ability to search for general concepts or principles to help make sense of particular objects or representations, and its exercise often is imaginative, playful, and pleasurable. Determinative judgment, on the other hand, is the ability to subsume particular instances under general rules, and is a less free, more logical way of thinking. In the course of the text's analysis, Kant begins to rehabilitate the less rational parts of the human psyche by showing how feeling and sensation can help orient us within the social domain and play important roles supporting moral reflection and driving moral commitment: Thus, feeling is central to ethical life and need not be pitted against the dictates of reason. The Critique of Judgment also uses an analysis of aesthetic pleasure to explore our connections with the world - the extent to which we may consider ourselves belonging to, involved in, and favored by a familiar nature, but also the extent to which we must regard ourselves as elevated above and independent of nature's power.

Most tantalizingly, perhaps, Kant suggests that feeling is actually able to provide hints about metaphysical mysteries that reason cannot solve. In the first two Critiques, Kant had argued for a radical gulf dividing phenomenal nature, which is structured in terms of a determinist causality, and freedom, which is ordered according to the legislation of autonomous reason. As he puts it, natural laws are laws according to which everything happens, whereas the laws of freedom are those according to which everything ought to happen. Kant argues that in the aesthetic consciousness, however, there are hints presented to feeling that nature and reason are rooted in the same supersensible substrate; on the level of thing in itself, underneath phenomenal experience and inaccessible to intellect, rational subject and world may originate in a common source. What this entails is that the moral order and the cosmos may in the end be harmonious and mutually supportive parts of a single continuum. This proto-mediation of the distinction between nature and humanity enables Kant to begin to integrate the diverse elements of his system, and bears great relevance to debates in environmental philosophy, phenomenology, and other fields concerned with the ways in which modern thought and science promote a mechanistic worldview predicated on what Max Weber famously called the "disenchantment of the world."

Quite apart from questions regarding Kant's system in its entirety and contemporary debates about the relation between subject and object, the text contains a great deal that is of interest to those readers looking for new insights in aesthetics, science, and culture more generally. The sections entitled "Analytic of the Beautiful" and "Deduction of Pure Aesthetic Judgment" carve off aesthetic reflection from our mundane, pragmatic concerns, and show why it is that a judgment of taste seems unable to be true or false. They include discussions of aesthetic genius, imagination, and the nature of fine art that remain influential to this day. They perform an analysis of the sensation that prompts the aesthetic attitude, a sensation so rich in significance that it perpetually overflows or exceeds any attempt to capture it in words or concepts. And they explore the way in which the reflective judgment seeking to make sense of such a sensation contributes both to intellectual development and to the cultivation of sociability and urbanity. The "Analytic of the Sublime" tackles the problem of why we sometimes feel pleasure and exaltation while contemplating phenomena of enormous size and destructive force (such as tornadoes and volcanoes), phenomena which more typically would provoke in us feelings of inadequacy, fear, or dread. Kant is not known for the grace of his prose, but his evocation of the consciousness of sublimity is his most haunting and vivid writing. The "Analytic of Teleological Judgment" and the concluding Appendix show how teleological ideas can guide and supplement scientific investigation that employs the more explanatory mechanistic principles, and Kant suggests that teleological thinking can help relate science to theology and to hypothetical reflection about nature as a coherent and beautiful whole.

Kant is one of those rare people whose ideas have stood the test of time so well that their work continues to be influential and controversial. The Critique of Judgment is a challenging book, and its language and ideas sometimes are technically complex. It stands, however, as the attempt by one of philosophy's most brilliant thinkers to explore the ways in which scientific reflection and a sensitivity to beauty and sublimity in both nature and art can orient us in our pursuit of the highest personal and cultural aspirations.

Marc Lucht holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Emory University. He has taught philosophy at Kenyon College, the University of Maine and Rocky Mountain College, and he writes frequently on the history of modern philosophy, continental philosophy, aesthetics, and environmental ethics.
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  • Posted July 7, 2013

    BN edition omits Kant's Preface and Introduction, even though th

    BN edition omits Kant's Preface and Introduction, even though the Endnotes begin with those from the (missing) Introduction.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 11, 2009

    A Good Dover Edition

    This was a fairly good edition of Kant's classic work, and I was suprised that I could get it for so little. It contains the complete text with good binding, etc. It is a dover edition, which means it's a paperback and of the quality of a dover paperback, but overall a nice gift for anyone who loves philosophy.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted December 11, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted November 5, 2008

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    Posted December 15, 2009

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