Kant’s Subjective Universal Validity

In Analytic of the Beautiful (Book 1 in Critique of Judgment), Kant discusses the judgment of taste, and presents arguments concerning the nature of beauty in comparison with that which is pleasant or good. Kant argues that judgments of taste (specifically of beauty) have subjective universal validity.

Judgments of taste are not logical or evaluations of reason. Instead, their determining ground is subjective. Judgments of taste are tied to internal feelings of satisfaction and pleasure, and so are aesthetical and subjective. Satisfaction in judgments of taste are disinterested and indifferent to the existence of objects. In contrast, both satisfaction with the pleasant and satisfaction with the good are interested in the state of the existence of objects. In pleasure we seek gratification, while in good we desire either utility (the mediate good—good for something) or good in itself (the immediate and absolute good). What gratifies is pleasant, what is esteemed is good, but what merely pleases is said to be beautiful (and note that what pleases is subjective).

The universality of the judgment of taste is related to its subjectivity: because it is both subjective and disinterested, this feeling of pleasure is valid for all humans (i.e. beauty is imputed to all as universally satisfying). Each individual feels pleasure in the beautiful, without reference to themselves and without interest in the object, and infers that this same satisfaction is universal (it is not bound to the subject’s interests or to the object’s existence). While the pleasant is individually satisfying, and the good is conceptual in nature, the beautiful is universally satisfying and non-conceptual. Judgments of beauty are not postulated as universal: all who make a claim of “beauty” impute universal agreement.

Kant may be seen as conflating satisfaction with the beautiful with taste: for Kant each person cannot possibly have their own tastes because tastes have subjective universal validity. However, his arguments seem to only suggest that satisfaction with the beautiful has subjective universal validity, not that all judgments of taste have subjective universal validity. If satisfaction with beauty is a subset of tastes, as some understand Kant to be saying, then there are others in the subset that may or may not share all of the same characteristics as beauty, and thus what is always true of beauty is not always true of all tastes (and vice versa). On the other hand, if satisfaction with beauty is synonymous with taste in Kant’s writings (and not a mere subset), we are left with the problem of why tastes differ, yet satisfaction with beauty does not. All humans find satisfaction with beauty (they impute absolute universal experience of beauty in beautiful objects); though they find beauty in different objects and differ amongst themselves about what objects are beautiful. In contrast, all humans find satisfaction with their own judgments of taste, but they do not impute absolute universal experience of taste with pleasant objects. In short, there seems to be an imputation of general objectivity (or at least intersubjectivity) in judgments of the beautiful, even though the experiences are subjective, while there seems to be no imputation of general objectivity in judgments of taste (in general): judgments of taste have subjective and indexical validity, but not always imputed general universality.


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