APA Central 2016

The Autonomy of Aesthetic Response:

Kant and the Neo-Kantians

Meeting of the North American Neo-Kantian Society
Wednesday, 2 March 2016, 7-10 PM


Chair: Lydia Patton (Virginia Tech)

APA Central Poster

The Meaning of “Life” in Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment

Melissa Zinkin (Binghamton University)

Abstract     Kant begins the Critique of the Aesthetic Power of Judgment with a reference to the feeling of life. But there has been little discussion in the secondary literature about what exactly Kant means by the feeling of life and what its relationship is to our power of judgment. I argue that by the feeling of life Kant means the feeling of our own mental activity. I argue that for Kant mental activity is systematic thinking and this is why Kant’s principle of reflective judgment requires that we see nature as organized as a system. The special value of judgments of reflection is therefore due to their promotion of our mental activity, or, the life of the mind.   Once we understand what Kant means by the feeling of life, we can then see what mental activity is for Kant and also understand why it is promoted by judgments of taste.


Creative Reception: Kant and Cassirer on the Autonomy of Aesthetic Response

Samantha Matherne (University of California, Santa Cruz)

The Critique of the Power of Judgment represents a revolutionary moment in Kant’s thought regarding the nature of aesthetic response: whereas in the first Critique, he relegated the analysis of aesthetic response to empirical psychology, in the third Critique, he provides a transcendental account of its a priori grounds. Or at least that is what Kant intended to do. Whether he was successful or not has more recently become a point of contention as commentators, like Guyer, have argued that Kant is ultimately unsuccessful in this because his explication of the key components of our aesthetic response, specifically, pleasure and the free play of our imagination and understanding, remains within the confines of empirical psychology. While some contemporary commentators (e.g., Zuckert) have sought to defend Kant against this objection, in this paper, I aim to bring to light another original and compelling defense of Kant from the tradition, viz., the one put forth by the Neo-Kantian, Ernst Cassirer.

By my lights, appealing to Cassirer in this context is promising not only because, as a Neo-Kantian, Cassirer was explicitly concerned with the threat of psychologism and directly addresses this issue in his aesthetics, but also his strategy is unique: unlike commentators now who concentrate on an analysis of a priori principles, Cassirer seeks to secure the autonomy of aesthetic response by connecting it to the activity of contemplation. More specifically, I show that, on Cassirer’s view, the contemplation involved in aesthetic experience is a creative, spontaneous activity that expresses our freedom and that it is this freedom, not any psychological process, which grounds the autonomy of pleasure and free play. Though Cassirer’s view is valuable in its own right, I hope to demonstrate that it is also a resource for those seeking to defend Kant against the charge of psychologism because it calls our attention to important, though often overlooked features of Kant’s analysis of the autonomous basis of aesthetic response.


An Intricate Relation: The (inter) subjectivity of aesthetic response in Cassirer and Langer

Anne Pollok (University of South Carolina)

Abstract     In this talk, I will take up Kant’s theory of aesthetic judgment as subjective in its reformulation by Ernst Cassirer and Susanne K. Langer. While both argue that aesthetic experience is decidedly non-conceptual and does not rest on any objective feature in the artwork that can command assent, their reliance on the concept of “significant form” seems to suffice to relegating them to the objectivist camp. I will argue, however, that the functional structure of significance obstructs such a reading. In the end, both Langer and Cassirer argue that the aesthetic experience offers a deeper intuitive grasp of the human condition that serves as the appropriate subjectivist extension of all our cognitive claims about the world.