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Kant's Aesthetics (PH9B1)

This course offers a thorough critical engagement with Kant’s third Critique, arguably the single most influential text in the history of both continental and analytic aesthetics, and some of the debates to which it is has given rise.

Fundamentally, the third Critique concerns the claims that aesthetic judges make on one another, and whether these claims can ever be rationally justified: how is it so much as possible to make legitimate demands on the agreement of others for judgements based on nothing more than subjective feeling—something we frequently do when confronted by natural or artistic beauty—and why is doing so of fundamental significance to what it is to be human? Along the way it considers a set of related questions about art and morality, the sublime and genius, and the relation between aesthetic and other types of judgement, both reflective and determinative.

We begin by setting up Kant’s project in aesthetics by contrasting it with Hume’s. Kant’s First Critique (Second Edition, 1878), includes a footnote that suggests Kant basically agrees with Hume that aesthetic judgement reduces at best to empirical generalisation for which no a priori principle, of the kind that Kant’s Critical Philosophy aspires to locate for every domain of properly rational enquiry, could be given. Yet three years later, Kant claimed to have found just such a principle with the publication of the third Critique in 1790. What had Kant seen in the interim and was he successful in his endeavour? In addressing these questions, the course will consider the (Published and Unpublished) Introductions, the concept of reflective judgement, the Analytic of the Beautiful, the Deduction of Aesthetic Judgements, the Sublime, the relation between Art and Morality, and the generally neglected topics of Fine Art and Genius.

Topics covered

The following is a list of topics for this module in the 2015/16 academic year; precise seminar content may change from year to year.

  • Reflective judgement in Intros
  • First and Second Moments
  • Third Moment/dependent beauty
  • Fourth Moment/Sensus Communis
  • Deduction
  • Beauty and Morality
  • Fine Art, Genius, Aesthetic Ideas
  • The sublime


This module is worth 20 or 30 CATS depending on your programme of study.