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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Guest Lecture/ Kant and Aesthetics/ Anup kumar Dhar

Lecture notes: 18th Sept, ‘10 Notes by: Basreena Basheer and Surya Simon


The Judgement of the Beautiful Enlightenment marked the beginning of a transition. It was during this time that people began to represent themselves, i.e. the house of commoners was beginning to dominate the house of the lords. There was some kind of freedom that was afflicted from mature thinking that is from the enlightenment. It came around 1790 after the French revolution which was in 1789. The French revolution is a political act which gave rise to a quasi parliamentary democracy and decrease in monarchy. Thus, enlightenment is also, a cultural act. It was around this time that Kant began writing. In fact, he was the first philosopher to write a newspaper article, “What is enlightenment”. Kant regards enlightenment as a stepping out of the whole of humanity from immaturity to maturity. This transition mainly focused on not following orders. The universities tried to produce subjects of such mature kind. Kant couldn’t complete his education in the university at first because of financial crisis. He became a teacher, earned money and then completed his education in philosophy. An interesting fact about Kant is that he always stayed within a radius of 70 km and never travelled beyond that. In Kant’s entire pre-critical years, he studied Newton’s works very closely. Newtonian physics studied physical nature. So, he first began by studying nature closely. The general notion during the time was that nature leads to life which in turn leads to consciousness which ultimately leads to morality, ethics and aesthetics. Basically, consciousness leads to value rationality which essentially comes with aesthetics. Kant’s entire pre-critical years were in physics and he tries to understand the physical world. Now, if we break down the human body into its various constituents:- Human Body- Organs- Cells-Nucleolus- DNA- Helix- Amino Acids- Nitrogen and Hydrogen. Amino acids are nothing but made of nitrogen which brings us to the conclusion that man is nothing but packets of nitrogen! But, how does this packet of nitrogen begin to think? Thus, derivation of word faculty comes from science. So, how does one have aesthetic judgment? Thus, the two major questions he puts forth in the beginning of his study are:- 1) How does man think critically? 2) How does man have a sense of aesthetics? Kant took the help of physics to answer the above questions. Kant wanted to find out what is there in this world and constantly questioned himself, “how do I know?” This inquisitiveness led him to reflect on the faculty of reason. During his critical years Kant wrote three books: Critique Of Pure Reason Critique Of Practical Reason Critique of Judgement According to Kant, nature as well as the mind has an order. Now these two orders match and thus one is able to know the world. Now this also reflects Des Cartes notion that one has an inherent faculty to know. Elaborating on this Kant writes that knowledge comes from experience but at the same time there is an ‘a priori’ in our mind which is a critical faculty that organizes chaotic perception into knowledge. Now this chaotic perception is infinite. The knowledge that is produced out of the world of experience is known as ‘conceptual schema’. But this conceptual schema as well as our sensory system is limited and thus we will never know nature. Basically we live in the world of phenomena and appearance. However we try to approximate this, there will be a philosophical gap. Also, reason, as well as our critical faculty are limited but should be developed. In short, Critique of Pure Reason deals with the perception of the natural world and he tries to address the question of ‘what is?’ Through the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant was responding to Newton ( physics), Des Cartes (rationality), Humes, Locke (empiricism) and Liabl. Through Critique of Practical Reason he was responding to the aestheticians. The second work, however tries to answer the question of ‘what ought to be?’ or ‘what should be done?’ that is the question of ethics and morality. This question of ethics and morality was very strongly addressed during the French Revolution (1789) by Rousseau as well as Voltaire, the question of doing away with monarchy and the like. We just don’t inhabit the planet but also do something to it. So, critique of practical reason with is about what is modern, rational and what should be practiced. In short, it deals with action. Now we have looked at the two questions what is and what ought to. But there is a gap between the two. There is also the essential question ‘what can I hope for?’ The second part of the third book connects the first and the second questions. The first part of critique of judgement deals with aesthetics. Kant however has limited the contours of reason: Practical Reason and Critical Judgement. According to Kant, knowing and doing has an apparent certainity. Kant believes that one must be trained in three critical faculties: rationality, values and judgement. He talks about three functions which are connected to these faculties respectively: truth function, ought function and the aesthetic function. Aesthetics basically deals with the beautiful, sublime and fine arts. So in his three critical works, Kant addresses three questions: What is truth? What should it be? Is it beautiful Let’s look at an example of a pen in water. Due to refraction, it looks bend. So, the first question would be is the pen straight or bend? The second question would be if it is supposed to be bend or straight? The third question would be is the pen beautiful? Kant then, would try to explain the truth of the pen, ought of the pen and beauty of the pen. He attributes truth to natural science, ought to social science and beauty to aesthetics. In other words, reason, talent and aesthetics. But beauty doesn’t necessarily concern the truth of the object. In the case of arts and aesthetics there is beauty within itself; there is beauty without the ought function. Literature studies basically constitute the domain of aesthetics. This domain of aesthetics constitutes the third question in human critical faculty. There are three worlds of physics: - Quantum, Newtonian and Einstein. Quantum physics deals with the smallest of particles such as atoms, etc. Newtonian physics deals with larger objects such as pen, coffee, etc. Einstein’s physics deals with larger heavenly bodies. They are different world but are all interconnected. In Quantum physics, the argument is about where exactly is the electron present. There is no fixed location. It is then, not about being here and there but somewhere in between. It is not Newton’s inertia of rest or inertia of motion but that of moment. Kant tries to do the same thing. He tries to bridge rationality and values placing beauty somewhere in between them. This is one reason Kant writes critiques and not criticisms. Beauty for Kant shows the limits. When a fish jumps out of water and takes a look around before falling back into water, it will see and get a better understanding of the world. But, it has to fall back into the same environment and that’s its limit. Similarly, beauty also acts within limits. In between cannot do this and cannot do that, lies what I can hope for. This hope lies in the a-proximate – as-proximate. For Kant, aesthetic judgement is based on disinterestedness. Interest depends on two things: one that it should be agreeable and two, it should have a good concept. The moment one develops some sort of an interest in the object and then judges, the judgement would either fall under pure reason or practical reason. The moment one likes something, an interest is generated which can be because of two reasons: the object is agreeable or appealing to sensations and the second because the object has a good concept. In the first case, Kant says it cannot be aesthetic judgement because it is judged on the basis of one’s rationality or knowledge (pure reason). Kant says that the second one falls under practical reason. Kant also, talks about purpose (end) and purposiveness (finality). The beautiful is purposive without any definite purpose. For example, a child without hands and legs is beautiful. Here, it is an aesthetic judgement because we do not look at what it can do or ought to do. Just the form itself is looked at. For Kant, it is the form that helps in aesthetic judgement and not the content. Content leads to interest. An atom bomb explosion is beautiful because of its form and not the content. Here, the rational or the moral side is not looked at. Judgement should result in pleasure rather than pleasure resulting in judgement. The judgement is on the basis of the form, arrangement, etc. But, this is not universally accepted because it depends on the taste. For Freud, Art is related to will. For Marx, Art is political and for the expressionists, Art is an offensive response.

Dhar, Anup Kumar. Guest Lecture Notes. Christ University. Bangalore.

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