The Beautiful In Kant's Third Critique And Aristotle's Poetics

3413 words - 14 pages

The Beautiful in Kant's Third Critique and Aristotle's Poetics

ABSTRACT: I argue that Kant's analysis of the experience of the beautiful in the third Critique entails an implicit or potential experience of the sublime, that is, the sublime as he himself describes it. Finding the sublime in the beautiful is what I call philosophical beauty. I then consider some aspects of Aristotle's analysis of tragedy in the Poetics, specifically his identification of the key elements of tragedy as those involving the experience of fear and pity, which leads to a catharsis of these emotions. Aristotle is famously unclear about what happens in this process of catharsis. I use the notion of philosophical beauty derived from Kant to suggest a possible explanation.

There is beauty and there is beauty. The two are not mutually exclusive, but rather represent two poles on a continuum. At one pole is the beauty that is associated with a sense of lightness and balanced order. It has a faintly decorative quality to it. At the other extreme is the much darker form of beauty that we associate with profundity and truth. This latter form of beauty I will analyze in terms of the containment of the sublime. The distinction between these two extremes of beauty has less to do with the objects under consideration, whether a flower, a sunset, a poem, a painting, or a piece of music, than it does with the attitude of the considerer of the object. That is, anything that possesses beauty of the first kind can also be viewed as possessing beauty of the second kind, if the attention of the viewer is directed appropriately. The differential across the continuum is constituted by the degree of awareness of the element of the sublime in the beautiful.

This second kind of beauty, that which is associated with depth and truth, is not a form of beauty that fits into Kant's categories of the beautiful and the sublime as he lays those categories out in the Critique of Judgement. I will argue that Kant's analysis of the concepts of the beautiful and the sublime yields a more complex conception of beauty than Kant himself ever articulated and I call this more complex conception of beauty philosophical beauty. I will conclude with some considerations that connect this revision of Kant's analysis of beauty with some of Aristotle's remarks on the nature of tragedy.

In the Critique of Judgement Kant contrasts the sublime and the beautiful. What it is that is beautiful for us in the beautiful Kant calls Zweckmässigkeit ohne Zweck, 'purposiveness without purpose'. (1) I will explain what I think Kant means by this. The categories of the understanding are organizing principles, they organize the sensory manifold into the usable structures of the world that we move among and employ every day. To find something useful in the world--that is, structured in a way that the organization of the thing suits both our understanding and some need of ours--is pleasurable for us. We enjoy the purposive...

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