On Kant’s Critique of Judgement

Kant asserts that pleasure must follow, rather than precede the judging of an object. As pleasure is “immediately dependent” on the object of judgement itself (pleasure seeks gratification, it has a goal), it is private rather than universal: it is not “free” in the sense of being unlimited by any attachments that might inhibit the associational work of the imagination and the intuition. His assertions resonate with Jungian (rather than Freudian) ideas about the collective unconscious and the nature of symbolic association in the activity of the intuition and imagination. Freud attaches all pleasure and gratification—or the repression and/or redirection of gratification—codependently within the subject to the object, whereas Kant maintains that truly aesthetic (sensory-based) judgements have everything to do with the subject—the one who perceives—and the quality of their perception, independent from the particular object of their observation.

I don’t believe the intent is to divorce pleasure from the aesthetic, only to make an initial distinction that frees the aesthetic from logic, from reason: pleasure seeks an ends (gratification), which is the work of cognition, of logic and reason. Pleasure may follow aesthetic judgements, in fact, it might be sensible to say that pleasure must follow aesthetic judgements, as Kant asserts that reason is the supreme quality of humanity that allows for the experience of sublimity. The fact of the aesthetic catalyzing the free play state of cognition and the imagination intuits that the faculties of reason and logic are engaged by the aesthetic and that an experience of pleasure would therefore follow aesthetic judgements. The activation of the faculties of logic and reason stimulated by the aesthetic is in itself pleasurable.

Subjective universality indicates that aesthetic judgements are purely subjective, or arising from the feelings and sensations of the subject in a manner independent of the object of judgement. I believe perhaps that what is meant by this is that the subject retains the imaginative or cognitive understanding that the feelings invoked by its observation arise from within the observer or subject, not from the object itself. The arousal of “purely” aesthetical judgements does not depend on the existence of any particular object or objects: this is what allows the state of free play in which the imagination is free to create new associations. The independence of the sensory experience from the object itself is the quality that also lends its universality.

Kant systematically establishes the necessity of the existence of universality in order to enable the formation of criterion that would allow for a Critique of Taste. Though many later critics have refuted the possibility of “universality” existing at all, and it is currently still a subject of some huge debate—especially in a social climate of American Independence and the microfocus on the individual as having a uniquely subjective, inaccessible, private experience of the self—much of this criticism ironically lends itself to ideas of universality often in the form of asserting and enforcing “universally” ethical judgements and the appearance of consensus.

However, we can at least agree that all humans are born, all humans have an experience of birth as a foundational sublime experience. The infant is in the grasp of the might of nature, of forces against which it is powerless, “in which we would wish to resist it, and yet in which all resistance would be altogether vain.” The infant survives the experience and is delivered into safety and bliss of being warmed, fed, connected to faces via the gaze. Its own subjective capacity for experiencing and transcending the initial overwhelm of birth is a potential moment of sublimity; “the pleasurableness arising from the cessation of an uneasiness is a state of joy.” The Disney movie Inside Out suggests “Joy” is the first emotion babies feel. It also represents the definitive climax of the sublime experience.
In reality, the aesthetic is both a private and completely subjective experience rooted in a universal pool of emotional and aesthetic imaginative resource—what allows joy to rise up in individuals may differ, but joy as an emotional resource is universal.

In his discussion of the sublime, Kant privileges reason over the imagination. The Romantics will privilege the imagination. Schiller offers a sort of romanticization of some Kantian ideas (and even Kant slates Imagination as a mental faculty, in a realm with Reason). I don’t think it’s far-fetched at all to assert that there is a sort of collective aesthetic universally shared. For example, humans from infancy all share a universal need to be tended to, cared for, recognized, received, understood, etc. So we might say that a collective aesthetic preference exists, even if the means by which we arrive at expressions of that particular aesthetic can be various, endlessly diverse.