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Reading Kant’s Third Critique: What the Beautiful Can Teach Us About Judgment


In the Critique of Judgment, Kant argues that judgment, our faculty for thinking particulars under universals, is governed by what he calls the “principle of purposiveness.” This principle states that we must look at the world as if it were made for our faculty of cognition. The purpose of this principle is not merely that we increase the systematicity of our knowledge, but that we achieve our highest end as rational agents. For Kant, this is the realization of a world in which happiness perfectly accords with morality. Ultimately, all of our activity—including our theoretical scientific pursuits—is directed toward this end. Poor judgment is not a matter of representing something that fails to correspond with the way the world is independent of our point of view. Rather, poor judgment consists in our engaging in the world in such a way that we fail to notice its relevance to any of the ends a human being could justifiably pursue for the sake of our ultimate end. To improve our judgment, we must learn to free ourselves from our particular, and often private, ends in order to see the full significance of objects. This principle of purposiveness is best illustrated by our judgments of taste, which we cannot justify on the basis of articulable rules. Careful analysis of these judgments shows how we must rely on a fundamental capacity to determine what is significant to other points of view, what Kant calls the “common sense.” The normativity of this faculty comes from our shared commitment to the highest end of reason, which compels us to consider how other people see the world. It finds its fulfillment not in our thinking something true about an object but in our taking pleasure in an object that is universally shareable. This experience is made possible not through the perfection of our faculty of cognition, but, as Kant says, “the way of thinking needed to make a purposive use of it.” This “broad-mindedness,” so apparent in our evaluations of beauty in art and nature, is equally necessary for sound theoretical and practical judgment.

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