Each year this module offers an in-depth introduction to one or more foundational texts in the tradition of philosophical aesthetics. This year we will consider Kant’s Critique of Judgement, and after reading week turn to Heidegger’s Origin of the Work of Art in the context of his related essays on modernity and technology.
At first glance these thinkers could not appear more different: Kant is the thinker of Enlightenment par excellence, confident of humanity’s rational vocation and moral improvability; Heidegger, writing over a Century and a half later, evinces a distinctly more pessimistic view of the direction humanity are taking with the advent of modernity, and the increasing technologisation and globalisation of everyday life.
Fundamentally, Kant’s third Critique concerns the claims that aesthetic judges make on one another, and whether these claims can ever be rationally justified: how is it 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? Heidegger, by contrast, takes the subjective starting point of Kant’s aesthetics as itself symptomatic of what is wrong with modernity, notably our concern with subjective experience, and as such a trivialisation of art’s true significance. Against this, Heidegger sees the function of art as revealing the historically or culturally specific epochs of “being” manifest in how what is as a whole shows up to which human beings are themselves subject.
This perception of a fundamental break between Kant and Heidegger is well grounded: nonetheless, the course will conclude by asking whether there may be some points of commonality between their respective views that are not initially evident.