- Purchase/rental options available:
Journal of the History of Philosophy 38.1 (2000) 63-85
[Access article in PDF]
What Is Claimed in a Kantian Judgment of Taste?
1. The Question
What, in Kant's view, is claimed in a judgment of taste? One answer comes easily enough: what is claimed is that something—some particular object of the judging person's experience—is beautiful. Perhaps such an answer is too easy. Perhaps, indeed, it is not even correct; for what of the judgment that something is not beautiful, or the judgment that something is ugly, or the judgment that one thing is more beautiful than another: would these not also count as judgments of taste for Kant? I wish to set the question aside for the present, and consider only the case of affirmative, favorable, non-comparative judgments of taste; for in these we shall find problems enough.1
Such judgments, according to Kant, are different in kind from the common run of judgments that we pass on the objects of our experience. These are, by and large, what he calls "logical" (meaning cognitive) judgments. We make them by conjoining concepts with intuitions. Judgments of taste, by contrast, he classifies as "aesthetic" (meaning, roughly, subjective and non-cognitive) judgments. These we make by conjoining, not a concept, but a feeling of pleasure with our intuition of an object. Given this much of Kant's view, one might conclude that the answer to our question is that nothing is claimed in a judgment of taste, for such a thing, on Kant's account, does not seem to be properly a judgment at all. Yet Kant denies that judgments of taste are mere expressions of personal or private feeling. To make such a judgment, [End Page 63] according to his account, is not merely to have a certain response to an object, but also to take one's response to be valid for all judging subjects. In this respect they do seem to have a title to the name of judgments. What is claimed in a judgment of taste, then, is what Kant terms the subjective universal validity of one's liking for an object. Borrowing a phrase from Paul Guyer, I will call this claim the claim of taste.2
To have a name for this claim, however, is not yet to have an understanding of its character and content. Several features of Kant's text make this difficult. For one, Kant uses a variety of terms to describe the status that, in a judgment of taste, one claims for one's response to an object. Besides "subjective universal validity" (or, on occasion, "universal subjective validity"), he speaks sometimes of "universal communicability," at other times of one or another kind of "necessity." It is not clear whether these terms are all meant to signify the same status or several different kinds of status. For another thing, the verbs that Kant uses to describe the way in which the person making a judgment of taste lays claim to universal agreement have been translated into English in two quite different ways. Sometimes he is made to say that we "require," "demand," or "exact" such agreement; at other times, that we "impute" or "attribute" it to others. The verbs of the first group suggest that the claim of taste is a claim to the agreement of others, or a claim about how one ought to respond to an object; the verbs of the second group suggest that it is a claim about how people do or would respond. A further source of difficulty is the fact that the "Critique of Aesthetic Judgment" seems to contain two distinct lines of argument in support of the legitimacy of judgments of taste. One argument, found in §§1-40,3 proceeds mainly in epistemological terms, while the other, found in §§41-60, proceeds in terms of the relation of taste to morality. The chief way in which commentators have sought to resolve these various complexities is to suppose that there are two distinct claims of taste, each of which is...