KANT'S AESTHETICS (1)
THOUGHTS ON KANT’S AESTHETICS
D. R. Khashaba
[I am re-reading Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment and, as usual, am writing down notes that I may some day, if I live, work into something. Since this is, to say the least, problematic, I thought I should from time to time post the notes to my blog. Here is the first batch.]
1. Rather than saying that we can always bring the data of our experience under concepts and laws (this being the gist of the principle of sufficient reason), we should say that it is only when we bring the date of our experience under concepts and laws that they are anything to us.
2. Kant never had a completely consistent, completely coherent, completely rounded and smoothed system. He was too profound and too sincere a thinker to chop rough edges in his thought to make it fit into a pre-formed systematic pattern. Hence the literally endless disagreements between learned scholars about this or that question in Kant’s system. They should know that Kant did not mean what Professor A says he meant and did not mean what Professor B says he meant; Kant wavered and could not make his mind on the question because no theoretical formulation of thought can be simply true. This is the lesson Plato meant us to grasp in the Parmenides.
3. The demand for what Kant calls “systematicity in our concepts and laws” follows directly from the demand for intelligibility, which in turn is a version of Parmenides’s identification of to be with to be thought.
4. In the first (discarded) Iintroduction the first rubric reads “On philosophy as a system”. This points to the dream and the error that vitiated Kant’s transcendental philosophy. Philosophy is averse to system because it is not in the nature of philosophical thinking to find rest or attain stability. Philosophical thinking is endless exploration, a Penelope web that must unweave by criticism what it wove by reasoning, tas hupotheseis anairousa, ep' autên tên archên hina bebaiôsêtai (Republic, 533c-d), but the first principle in which it seeks support is none other than that restless intelligence that is ever sounding its own unfathomable reality, as Heraclitus, anticipating Plato, well knew.
5. Philosophy as “the system of rational cognition through concepts” is what I call a particular universe of discourse, but the ‘system’ is only good for that particular universe of discourse which can neither be definitive nor exclusive.
6. Apparently Kant’s aim in the third Critique was to establish a “system of rational cognition through concepts” for the aesthetic sense, a legitimate and proper aim, provided that we be clear on two points: (1) that such a system is necessarily imaginative and transitory; (2) that it does not define or reveal the nature of the beautiful or of the sense of beauty; beauty and the sense of beauty are realities and as realities are and will ever remain unfathomable mysteries; there is no going beyond Socrates’ ‘foolish’ “It is by Beauty that all beautiful things are beautiful.”
7, Kant’s elaborate and intricate divisions and sub-divisions here as elsewhere in his transcendental system only obscure his creative insights, and I will not stop to comment on these.
8. The “rational cognition of (objects) from concepts” is a deceptive notion. The forms, Platonic or Kantian, confer meaning on things, make them meaningful to us and for us, but the meaning we find in things is the meaning we put into them, as Kant himself famously said. But Plato’s autên tên archên remains unreachable, or better said, cannot be ‘reached’ because it is the reaching act itself, the creative intelligence in us which is the only reality we are vouchsafed to know.
9. To designate the will as the “faculty of choice” is to open the way to much confusion and serious error, The essence of will is spontaneity. Choice involves deliberation, hesitation, and the weighing (conscious or unconscious) of alternatives and consequences. Only spontaneous will is free. We speak of freedom of choice only by special concession and in a secondary sense as opposed to coercion. But choice is always determined by its antecedents. This justifies Kant’s statement that “practical propositions, … if they immediately assert the possibility of an object through our faculty of choice, always belong to the knowledge of nature and to the theoretical part of philosophy”.
10. What is “our faculty of a priori cognition through concepts”? A bombastic appellation for what Plato called ideas begotten by the mind. Thinking, live thinking, not the mere regurgitation of thought received ready-made, is creative. Homer created ideals of honour, of fidelity, of sacrifice. Any original writer, in writing the simplest text, weaves and interweaves notions that have their unique meanings in their specific context. No word has the same meaning in two statements however seemingly similar. Thus all original notions are a priori since they create their own ideal content whether or not they ever find exemplifications – always approximate, never perfect – in the objective realm. All the classifications, divisions, distinctions we make in our theoretical thinking are ad hoc, good for the immediate purpose but no more. Kant’s intricate classifications, analyses, divisions, are fine, creating exquisite theoretical vistas, but Kant wronged himself when he thought he was discovering them while he was imaginatively creating them. Let this be my apology for abstaining from examining Kant’s theoretical architectonics.
Cairo, September 16, 2015.