The Kantian notion of transcendental aesthetics is interwoven with our ability as subjects to evaluate the external and internal world in such a way that we also discover, or rather recognize, an external natural order and harmony which gives rise to a normative urge to behave ethically according to universal standards. The overall Kantian argumentation of transcendentalism can sometimes become ambiguous due to his extensive usage of a priori causal notions. Therefore, it is important to clarify which claims Kant would think fall under the descriptive language of empirical discoveries. To Kant, all possible empirical knowledge, which is a posteriori, is causally preceded by intuitions of space and time, intuitions which are both transcendental to the verificationist process of science, as well as our linguistic ability to describe the external world. Our subjective cognitive activity is mediated by our cognition of space and time, which directly interacts with our sensorial experience.
The difficulty in providing a complete and clear explanation of the Kantian transcendental aesthetic is because arguments have been put forward that Kant does change his position regarding the relationship between our senses and space–time cognitive activities (Falkenstein, 2004). However, there is one component that remains fairly consistent through Kant’s views pertaining to the relationship of our subjective experience and its capacity to interpret reality. Namely, our subjective cognitive architectonic dynamically engages with criteria of reflection via cognitive mechanisms and activities, as well as the universalist component which mediates and recognizes the harmony of interdependence between nature itself and our subjective capacity to understand nature, as the thing in itself (Beck, 1998). This mediation behaves as a cognitive apparatus that, in the context of the aesthetic experience, results in experiences of pleasure containing some sort of normative element. This causal process is arguably consistent since Kant maintains the same stance pertaining to the object of mediation between the sensibilia and the natural order of the world, within the scope of both natural and transcendental laws.
The concept of aesthetic experience for Kant encompasses more than spatiotemporal transcendence of some sort. The aesthetic view also includes a dynamic experience of the senses, in relation to feelings of beauty encapsulated in pleasure, which is of two types: interested and disinterested. This particular component of Kant’s aesthetics will later on be emphasized to bridge the similarities towards politics and art in medieval Asia. To extend the parallel between Kant’s aesthetic paradigm and historical events of medieval Asia, I shall also work under the presumption that ethical claims are completely interdependent with political ones. Ethical statements entail political actions, as well as vice-versa. This symmetrical relationship between ethical and political reasoning are both imported not only from Kant’s view of aesthetics, but also a strikingly similar approach Buddhist philosophy has towards the relationship between aesthetic and ethical experiences.
Davies (2012) differentiates the two types of beauty in Kant by the criteria of intrinsic functional mechanisms. Dependent beauty is illustrated as an experience emerging from a human-made creation, whereas free beauty is a perception towards nature that endows the experiencer with an a priori disposition towards the morally good (KU, 5:301) (Kant, 2000). To Kant, this inherent natural beauty is recognized conditionally. The subject must be predisposed to moral thinking in order for her faculty of reason to be able to generate the right cognitive associations such that beauty is recognized in nature. An argument could be made that this recognition of beauty behaves as a mechanism of enhancing the subject’s capacity to apply moral reasoning. There are several exegetical dimensions that would both favor and disfavor such an interpretation of natural beauty. Allison (1966) emphasizes a passage from the Critique of Judgment (KU) in which Kant seemingly is making a distinction between freedom of choice derived from natural beauty, and the imposition of moral duties upon our interaction with the natural world:
KU (5:210)Footnote 1:
For where the morallaw speaks there is, objectively, no longer any free choice with regard to what is to be done; and to show taste in one’s conduct (or in judging that of others) is something very different from expressing one’s moralmode of thinking; for the latter contains a command and produces a need, while modishtaste by contrast only plays with the objects of satisfaction without attaching itself to any of them. [my italics]
As a response, I would like to defer to a passage where Kant makes clearer the relationship between theoretical and practical reasons (KU 20:198).Footnote 2 Indeed, Kant does stress the distinction that the principles of natural laws differ from the ones derived from principles of freedom. At the same time, Kant emphasizes aunity between these principles, since both theoretical and practical reasons derive their representational content in reference to the object of a proposition from “the nature of things”. An object is represented in reality itself by a derivation of content undergone by practical reasons from theoretical ones. Therefore, although there are different practical constraints towards the application of theoretical and practical reasons, these concepts are nonetheless imported from the same source of theoretical reasons. I am hesitant to extrapolate additionally from KU 20:198 on the relationship between the unitary source of theoretical and practical reasons. There is a risk of overinterpretation. Kant himself seems concerned with a similar observation. In KU 20:230, Kant particularly emphasizes that any cognitive import of understanding pleasure and displeasure via a conceptual apparatus does not lead to a correct understanding of a particular feeling.Footnote 3
Despite these conceptual, sensorial, and emotional entanglements, Kant did attempt to at least partially navigate the paradoxes. In 5:198,Footnote 4 he provided a chart pertaining to the relationship between cognitive and conceptual faculties in such a way that it shows potential for some minimal resolution. Our faculty of reason is interwoven with the a priori principle of lawfulness, particularly in application to nature. Feelings of pleasure and displeasure are mediated by the faculty of judgment, via the principle of purposiveness, in application to art. Lastly, our faculty of desire is linked to reason, via the principle of a final end (empirically assessable causal maxim), which is applied to freedom. This dynamic and inevitable interdependence of aesthetic, moral and political concepts is salient for how Kant himself also indirectly links, or so I would argue, his regimentation of cognitive faculties to a sense of agency in the political space of a particular civilization.
However, Kant also recognizes that even these mediating notions may not fully illustrate the relationship between taste and aesthetic experiences on one hand, or aesthetic judgments on the other. These deontic and modal tensions pertaining to conceivability, possibility and obligations exemplified by the unity yet distinctiveness of theoretical and practical reasons is further synthesized by Kant’s dialectic of taste, found in KU 5:339Footnote 5:
Thesis. The judgment of taste is notbased on concepts, for otherwise it would be possible to dispute about it (decide by means of proofs).
Antithesis.The judgment of taste is based on concepts, for otherwise, despite its variety, it would not even be possible to argue about it (to lay claim to the necessary assent of others to this judgment).
There is no possibility of lifting the conflict between these two principlesunderlying every judgment of taste (which are nothing other than the two peculiarities of the judgment of taste represented above in the Analytic), except by showing that the concept to which the object is related in this sort of judgment is not taken in the same sense in the two maxims of the aesthetic power of judgment, that this twofold sense or point of view in judgingis necessary in our transcendental power of judgment, but also that the semblanceinvolved in the confusion of the one with the other is, as a natural illusion,unavoidable. [my italics]
Clearly, there is no reasonable way of squaring the circle here. Through the KU, Kant does not defer to some sort of conceptual transcendence in order to resolve the paradox either. Priest’s attempt towards resolving the tension, however minimal, is worthy of mention. His contextualization of the logical tension in the context of Kant’s phenomena/noumenal distinction provides some clarity towards how perhaps Kant engaged with another meaningful dimension of his Critiques, particularly the differentiation between epistemic and conceptual access. To Priest, the impossibility of knowledge in these discussions is not an epistemic barrier, but a conceptual one. Our thoughts themselves cannot formulate and contextualize the necessary syllogism to find a clear resolution (Priest, 1995).
On one hand, Kant explores the dialectic of the aesthetic via the distinction of free and dependent beauty. In order to understand what kind of implications does Priest’s conceptual/epistemic distinction has to the aesthetic experience altogether, it necessitates an application to the discussion of free and dependent beauties. Burgess argues that the production of the aesthetic idea “instigates” the free play of imagination and understanding, meaning that the process of cognizing the aesthetic idea is a second-order cognitive process relative to the first order apprehension and unification of perception (Burgess, 1989). The argument continues that Kant’s view of concepts necessitates a rule-governed procedure for the recognition of the object. These concepts are cognitively restricted by the identification process of a causal end. Additionally, the formal epistemic condition for determining the content of the concept is dependent alongside the identification of the (causal) finality. The process of identifying the finality is a result of recognizing the relationship between the free play of the senses and the aesthetic pleasure. This formulation by Burgess leads him with the following conclusive remarks. Firstly, the aesthetic idea is not real, or at least, never “realized in reality”.Footnote 6 The satisfaction condition for the conceptual content of the aesthetic are the alignment of a multiplicity of equally plausible and reasonable explanations for both the identification of a finality, as well as an interpretation of the disinterested pleasure in and of itself. Burgess is quite content with this cognitive mediation of some sort of epistemic pluralism. The recognition of the object as beautiful is the end-in-itself, without any regard for additional conditions for conceivability or realizability. It is actually the mind itself that is intrigued by the form of finality, yet multiplicity of rationalizations and explanations for the experience of free beauty. Burgess’ interpretation is skillful in developing a descriptive account of the interdependence of the free play of the senses in relation to the aesthetic experience as well as some sort of causal unity of apprehension and assertible maxims. However, there is still the question of a notional applicability towards dependent beauty and the salience of the normative component in the aesthetic.
Although I do not disagree with Burgess’ reconstruction of Kant’s aesthetic, there is a clarificatory remark that I would like to emphasize. This slight disagreement does not pertain with the conceptual formation of disinterested pleasure, but rather to the cognitive mediation undergone by the subject to arrive at the proposed formulation of disinterestedness via the aesthetic. The limits of conceivability and determination of concepts as functional towards a natural order are incomplete by merely deferring to the harmony of the free play of the senses. As earlier emphasized by evoking KU 5:301, Kant sees any sort of rationalization and by extension interest of the aesthetic via the prism of the interest in the moral and the good. The epistemic grounding for any cognitive or purely conceptual emergence or possibility of the aesthetic ontologically necessitatesFootnote 7 some sort of predisposition towards moral thinking, such that whatever beauty and/or order we see in nature itself, is an epistemic import from the lawfulness of practical reasoning. Therefore, my attempt is to provide a complementary explanation to Burgess, in the sense of broadening the analytic framework of the aesthetic, in order to encompass the normative component. The mediating notion that could further illustrate and extrapolate this relationship between the aesthetic and the normative is the one of purposiveness. Although Burgess himself might have indirectly used purposiveness under some broader synonymity with the concept of reflective judgment, there still needs to be some clarification for the normative implications of the aesthetic.
Firstly, the notion of purposiveness has representational content. KU 20:202 goes as follows:
Thus if there is to be a concept or a rule which arises originally from the power of judgment, it would have to be a concept of things in nature insofar as nature conforms to our power of judgment, and thus a concept of a property of nature such that one cannot form any concept of it except that its arrangement conforms to our faculty for subsuming the particular given laws under more general ones even though these are not given;in other words, it would have to be the concept of a purposiveness of nature in behalf of our faculty for cognizing it, insofar as for this it is required that we be able to judgethe particular as contained under the general and subsumeit under the concept of a nature. [my italics]
This passage is particularly interesting because it shows a binding relationship between purposiveness and rules. Burgess correctly points out that recognition of objects is a rule-based procedure. However, the minimal mention of purposiveness under the guise of reflective judgment(s) necessitates the following clarifications:
Purposiveness is the regularity that binds cognitive activities to rules of mediation that lead to conceptualization.
This regularity manifolds as an object of perception for cognitive mediation between free and dependent beauty.
Purposiveness understood as a concept rather than a feeling, leads to formal ground towards the unity of apprehension.
Even with this three-step assessment, the paradox of taste seems to remain unresolved. Kant’s solution to derivations of feelings from concepts does necessitate further attention, although the solution can only result in partial solvency. In KU 5:400–401, Kant states that these observable states of nature can only be described a finality if and only if we observe natural ends as intentional.Footnote 8 The problem with this is that external objects do not have such intentional properties, hence the ascription of purposiveness in itself is completely dependent on the subjective observer. Conclusively, Kant states that we cannot make any objective affirmation or negation towards the external state of affairs without deferring to some sort of intelligence, either ours as humans or God’s. Inevitably, we are left with the question of the relation and unity of theoretical and practical reasons because of the paradox of taste. There may be a reconciliation between Priests’ epistemic/conceptual distinction, as well as Burgess’ formal conditions for pluralism. The two-step solution provided by Burgess illustrates firstly the unity of perception and apprehension, and secondly the reconstruction of the object and the cognitive activity responsible for judgments. Similarly, Kant states in KU 5:220Footnote 9 that a conceptual ascription towards desires assumes a causal determination, although purposiveness can exist without an end in so far as we do not ascribe a causal relation to its intuitive and conceptual form, but rather derive its form and content from the will, which in turn can only asses practical circumstances. Therefore, the notion of purposiveness can be understood as some dispositional unrealizable concept that transcends the bounds of practical assertability in the context of theoretical interactions of the free play of the senses, but it can also have morphological implications for practical reasons in the context of identifying a finality. As Priest put it, in the experiences, however subtle of free beauty, we lack both formal conceptual and epistemic access into ascribing some sort of concept towards disinterestedness as a feeling, although purposiveness remains as a necessary constant for the cognitive mediation. Secondly, in the likes of relating a feeling of respect to a priori moral judgments (KU 20:230), there is an asymmetrical tension of ascribing concepts of duties to emotive dispositions to behave in a moral way. These implications are not only important towards how we understand Kant’s architecture of beauty and the aesthetic, but also towards the describable parallels towards Buddhist discussions of effibility, enlightenment and ethical maxims.