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The Journal of Speculative Philosophy 15.4 (2001) 257-271

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Embodiment, Conceptuality and Intersubjectivity in Idealist and Pragmatist Approaches to Judgment

Paul Redding
The University of Sydney

In contrast with the empiricist tradition, German idealism and American pragmatism shared a tendency to treat aesthetic judgment as the exemplar of judgment per se. In each case, I suggest, this was motivated by much the same reasons--aesthetic judgment was seen as central to an understanding of how judgment could be both based in the responses of the body to its environment on the one hand, and yet have some type of trans-subjective, normative, and hence "ideal" content, on the other.

Starting with the pragmatism of William James, I show how James, with his anti-Cartesian focus on the embodiment of the judging subject, was able to give to aesthetic judgment a significance that for empiricists it had traditionally lacked. For the earlier empiricists, the "subjective" dimension of aesthetic judgments typically rendered them problematic in comparison with more straightforward perceptual ones, such as judgments of color. James, however, was able to restore to aesthetic judgment a type of objectivity, based on the idea of "aesthetic" qualities as having real effects on the physiologically grounded emotional reactions of perceiving subjects. Regarded from such a point of view, aesthetic judgments lose their peripheral status and instead are able to be thought of as prototypical of judging in general.

Against this Jamesian background, I argue that elements of a similarly somatically focused approach can be seen as implicit in Hegel's account of judgment in the Science of Logic, an account within which Hegel, too, raised aesthetic judgment to prototypical status. Such a focus on embodiment, particularly on the role of the outwardly directed [End Page 257] somatic expressions of affective states, in turn sheds light on how Hegel was able to adopt an "inferentialist" account of judgment, an approach that takes the content of any judgment as determined by the inferential relations within which it can be placed. I go on to show how this approach could emerge from Kant's treatment of judgment in the Critique of Judgment. In particular, I argue that it was Hegel's appropriation of pre-Cartesian conceptions of inference that allowed him to extract Kant's approach from its own more Cartesian framework.

While such a focus on the body and its communicative expressions reveals an underlying continuity between the idealist and pragmatist traditions, it also allows us to appreciate the relevance of such an orientation for today. I conclude using examples from recent accounts of cognitive development interpreted within a Peircean "semeiotic" frame to suggest the contemporaneity of the idealist-pragmatist approach as one able do justice to both our biological and "spiritual," or norm-following, aspects.

1. James and the Somatic Nature of Judgment

In a paper first published in 1905 entitled "The Place of Affectional Facts in a World of Pure Experience," William James sketched the outlines of a fundamentally anti-Cartesian, somatically based account of aesthetic experience. Superficially regarded, the account offered there seems to restate a familiar naturalistic move of treating aesthetic experience as simply a matter of the "projection" of pleasurable bodily states onto an evaluatively neutral world--treating beauty (following Santayana) as "pleasure objectified" (1947, 143). The apparently noncognitivist nature of this approach fits in with what has usually been regarded as James's equally noncognitivist and somatically reductionistic approach to emotions that he had developed two decades earlier. Thus, in 1884, in "What Is an Emotion?" he had famously written: "If we fancy some strong emotion, and then try to abstract from our consciousness of it all the feelings of its characteristic bodily symptoms, we find we have nothing left behind, no 'mind-stuff' out of which the emotion can be constituted. . . . What kind of an emotion of fear would be left, if the feelings neither of quickened heart-beats nor of shallow breathing, neither of trembling lips nor of weakened limbs, neither of goose-flesh nor of visceral stirrings, were present, it is quite...


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