Elisabeth Schellekens is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at Durham University. In the latest of our academic inspiration pieces she discusses her studies at the University of Edinburgh and what first struck her about Kant’s philosophical works.
When I first started studying Philosophy as an undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh, I was mainly interested in epistemology, ancient philosophy and the philosophy of mind. It was only towards the end of my degree that I was introduced to Kant’s third and final Critique, the Critique of the Power of Judgement. The Chair of Moral Philosophy in Edinburgh at the time, Professor Ronald Hepburn, suggested I look at the first half of the work (the so-called ‘Analytic of the Beautiful’) to think about the kind of judgement that might be contrasted with cognitive judgements, or judgements we can ground in facts.
According to Kant’s theory, aesthetic judgements (or “judgements of taste”) are unlike ordinary (or “logical judgements”) in terms of their evidential ground. In short, ordinary judgements command universal assent because we can appeal to matters of fact in the world to support them, whereas aesthetic judgements don’t allow for such “proofs”. What makes Kant’s theory so unique, however, is that he nonetheless insists that aesthetic judgements can have a sort of objective validity. This validity is grounded in the common sense human beings share, or our shared perceptual and judgemental apparatus. Kant explicitly states that “[i]n all human beings, the subjective conditions of this [aesthetic power of judgment], as far as the relation of the cognitive powers therein set into action to a cognition in general is concerned, are the same, which must be true, since otherwise human beings could not communicate their representations and even cognition itself.” (Kant, 2000, §38, 5: 290, Remark, p.170.)
What struck me the most about this idea, and what still makes the Critique of the Power of Judgement one of the most interesting and tantalising texts I know, are the implications of this claim for how we divide the world into what we think of as objective and subjective or possible candidates for knowledge and truth. My PhD thesis, completed at King’s College in 2003, centred on this distinction between subjectivity and objectivity and the idea that emotions can be sources of knowledge. More specifically, it is an attempt to reformulate that distinction from a strict dichotomy to a more nuanced gradation and advocate the possibility of a so-called “reasonable” or reason-based objectivism for aesthetic and moral judgements. I am currently working on a book manuscript which explores some of these Kantian themes.
Other books that have influenced how I think about these questions include Hilary Putnam’s The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy (2002) and Bernard Williams Truth and Truthfulness (2002).
Elisabeth Schellekens is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at Durham University. She is Editor (with John Hyman) of the British Journal of Aesthetics and author of Aesthetics and Morality (Continuum, 2007) and Who’s Afraid of Conceptual Art (with the late Peter Goldie, Routledge 2009). She is also co-editor of Philosophy and Conceptual Art (OUP, 2007) and The Aesthetic Mind: Philosophy and Psychology (OUP, 2011). She is currently working on a monograph about Aesthetic Objectivism.