Sensus Communis: On the Possibility of Dissent in Kant's "Universal Assent"
Abstract

Abstract:

This essay examines the concept of sensus communis (common sense) in Kantian aesthetic theory. Kant argues that sensus communis, and in particular the “universal assent” or agreement of others to an individual’s judgments of taste, is necessary to ground the communicability of subjective aesthetic judgments. The community of others invoked in these expressions of common sense, however, remains entirely virtual, and both Kant and his later readers (most notably Jean-François Lyotard) express uneasiness about extending the theoretical framework to describe empirical aesthetic communities. As a result, the possibility of aesthetic communities built around dissent or disagreement rather than universal agreement appears to be ungrounded, or at least underdeveloped. The essay proposes several possibilities for grounding such dissent on Kantian terms, and concludes with a discussion of recent works by Rei Terada and Daniel Heller-Roazen that explore similar questions, albeit from perspectives that are explicitly outside the Kantian framework. Rethinking and refining the function of sensus communis emerges as a crucial task in the formation of an aesthetic theory that allows judgments to be shared and communicated while still leaving room for disagreement and debate and limiting the coercive demand for agreement.