. 8
( 10)


Elgin writes; “it is a dynamic body of provisional commitments, contin-
ually being tested by its capacity to nurture understanding” (1996, 134).
Understanding as the search for re¬‚ective equilibrium is essentially a
historicized and coherentist version of the Kantian re¬‚ective process of
concept formation, though the means for achieving this equilibrium are
not limited to the subsumption of objects under concepts. Even for Kant,
re¬‚ection on nature involves more than just conceptualizing objects. In
both the ¬rst and the third Critiques judgment is guided by the re¬‚ective
and regulative ideal of ordering our cognition of nature into a system. As
Kant argues in the First Introduction to the Critique of the Power of Judgment,
the sheer empirical diversity of physical laws and organic forms discovered
in nature can hardly be accounted for by the bare categorial structures
the mind contributes to the unity of experience. We must suppose, Kant
holds, that this natural diversity coheres as a unity, of a sort imaginable for
nature if we treat it as if it were a product of intelligence. We understand
nature, therefore, not only by constitutively cognizing its objects under
determining concepts, but also by regulatively ordering its parts into a
system. Re¬‚ective judgment and reason cooperate in this effort. Re¬‚ec-
tive judgment provides the principle of purposiveness that entitles us to
construe nature regulatively as a system. Re¬‚ective judgment employs “a
principle of the representation of nature as a system for our power of
judgment, divided into genera and species, [which] makes it possible to
bring all the natural forms that are forthcoming to concepts . . . through

6 First Introduction, in Kant (2000), 15“16n (Ak 20:212).
Kirk Pillow

Reason, on the other hand, provides the form of systematicity that
nature is expected to ful¬ll. The regulative principles of homogeneity,
speci¬cation, and continuity that Kant presents in the ¬rst Critique, which
are to guide our systematization of nature, are designed to order the
conceptual rules of understanding into a Linnaean taxonomy of natural
forms. Kant writes:

Reason thus prepares the ¬eld for the understanding: 1. by a principle of same-
ness of kind in the manifold under higher genera; 2. by a principle of the variety
of what is same in kind under lower species; and in order to complete the sys-
tematic unity it adds 3. by still another law of the af¬nity of all concepts, which
offers a continuous transition from every species to every other through a grad-
uated increase of varieties. We can call these the principles of the homogeneity,
speci¬cation, and continuity of forms.7

Because reason™s goal is to bring order to the understanding™s rule
for cognizing nature, Kant construes the system of nature as a hierar-
chical pyramid of genus“species relations among concepts. However,
aside from appearing to commit Kant to a problematic endorsement of
“natural kinds,”8 the resultant unity brought to our experience is much
too narrow. These principles provide only for a systematic classi¬cation of
nature. They obscure the myriad ways in which our sense of things hangs
together less systematically and hierarchically, as well as the myriad ways
in which our sense of things is dynamic, variable, and historical. Even if
Kant locates in reason capacities for making regulative sense of nature
above and beyond the transcendental and empirical categorizations of
˜understanding™ in his technical sense, the resultant construal of nature
is inadequate to the true complexity and ¬‚exibility of our broader powers
of understanding.
Re¬‚ective understanding of Elgin™s sort pursues a less rigid and classi-
¬catory comprehension of how things are. Understanding in the broader
sense in which I am contrasting it with Kant strives for coherence in this
sense: the ad hoc and historically sedimented unity of a web of belief. It
seeks re¬‚ective equilibrium among the whole network of our cognitive
commitments, and its building blocks are not elements in a taxonomy but

7 See the Appendix to the Transcendental Dialectic, “On the Regulative Use of the Ideas
of Pure Reason,” A657“8/B685“6.
8 Henry Allison observes the dependence of empirical concept formation on the supposi-
tion of a system of conceptual genera“species relations, and suggests that the goal of the
Kantian systematizer of nature is a taxonomy that “carves nature at its joints.” See Allison
(2001), 32“4. Allison does not consider the plausibility of a metaphysical commitment
to natural kinds. See also Allison (2000), 81“5.
Understanding Aestheticized 251

convictions in a history of inquiry. The goal of understanding is not one
uni¬ed hierarchy of categories. Rather, the development and applica-
tion of multiple and potentially inconsistent category schemes is but one
tool for understanding broadly construed, and our categories are eval-
uated not in terms of their correspondence to some antecedent order
of objects, but in terms of their contribution to the cultivation of re¬‚ec-
tive equilibrium in our whole understanding. The merits of a category
scheme, Elgin writes, “depend on its utility, an effective scheme being
one whose organization of its realm suits our purposes. Rightness of cate-
gorization thus consists neither in blind ¬delity to tradition nor in accord
with an antecedent metaphysical order, but in meshing with other ten-
able commitments to promote tenable ends” (1996, 105). The point of
devising category schemes is not simply to organize things; the point is
to invest different things differently with the signi¬cances they have for
us in the context of our various needs and goals.
This indicates that understanding thus broadened is not only coher-
entist but also interpretive. Understanding amounts to more than iden-
tifying objects as instantiated collections of properties that match the
predicates contained in a concept. Interpretive understanding construes
objects, events, people, and abstract entities as rich deposits of contex-
tualized meaning and strives to make sense of them comprehensively.
Understanding a particular artifact, for example, requires knowing not
only what it is for, but also who designed it and what its production his-
tory is, whether it is owned and who owns it, how it compares to other
artifacts of its kind, what symbolic meanings it might have personally
and socially, and so on (although any, all, or none of these things might
matter for various purposes). Such understanding does not merely cate-
gorize but also construes things through symbols, metaphors, narratives,
and other seeing-as devices in order to produce comprehensive perspec-
tives on their meanings, “even when [these devices] do not augment our
stock of literal truths” (Elgin 1996, 170). Through what Goodman and
Elgin have called “exempli¬cation,” for example, understanding draws
attention to speci¬c attributes of things, not in order merely to con-
ceptualize the properties of objects, but to highlight features of things
for multiple organizational and communicative purposes.9 Just as this
broad understanding countenances multiple category schemes for dif-
ferent ends, it also welcomes the possibility of multiple right interpre-
tations of a given object, and selects among interpretations depending

9 See Goodman (1968), 52“67, and Elgin, CJ 171“83.
Kirk Pillow

on its current aims. Producing interpretations involves not merely sub-
suming objects under concepts but also ordering systems of judgments
into convincing narratives or compelling unpacking and repackaging of
Interpretive understanding also extends meanings by continually mak-
ing new connections between domains of inquiry, and it does so fre-
quently by means of metaphor. Striking new metaphors reinterpret things
in ways that often require recon¬guration or rejection of previously
held commitments. Metaphorical meaning is typically construed as inex-
haustible, or at least not subject to paraphrase. One reason for this is
that metaphors link different spheres of cognitive commitment so as
to invite ongoing reconsideration of meanings (and so also possibilities
for reference) in both domains. The coherentist nature of interpretive
understanding renders restructuring of meanings in one area strongly
advisable for consideration of revisions elsewhere, and the inexhaustibil-
ity of metaphorical meaning re¬‚ects this reverberation that the success-
ful metaphor causes in the spheres of belief between which it transfers
meanings. Successful metaphors also transgress the conventional rules
of application of our concepts, and so invite new patterns of judgment
that produce fresh understanding, despite their literal falsity and their
transgression of conventional categorizations.
To summarize, understanding in the broad sense is the interpretive
ordering of experience into meaningful wholes, with re¬‚ective empirical
concept formation but one element of this effort.
Now I want to propose that Kant™s conception of the aesthetic idea is
the exemplar in his thought of this kind of understanding. Aesthetic ideas
are the fruit of a productive imagination that creates, “as it were, another
nature, out of the material which the real one gives it.”10 Kant ¬rst char-
acterizes an aesthetic idea as “[a] representation of the imagination that
occasions much thinking though without it being possible for any deter-
minate thought, i.e., concept, to be adequate to it, which, consequently,
no language fully attains or can make intelligible” (CPJ 192). No rule
for conceptual subsumption can determine an aesthetic idea because
the content of such an “idea” is not a collection of predicates charac-
terizing the properties of some set of objects. Yet the “indeterminacy”
of an aesthetic idea does not render it an incoherent train of associa-
tions; if this were so, it would amount only to the “original nonsense”

10 Critique of the Power of Judgment, 192. Subsequent references will be provided parentheti-
cally in the body of the text, using the abbreviation CPJ.
Understanding Aestheticized 253

of Kant™s failed genius (CPJ 186).11 An aesthetic idea is an imaginative
ordering of what Kant calls “aesthetic attributes,” the arrangement of
which provide “unsought extensive undeveloped material for the under-
standing” (CPJ 194). The aesthetic idea surpasses what understanding
provides conceptually because through it imagination seeks to emulate
reason by expressing an experiential whole (CPJ 192“3). The imagina-
tive ordering of aesthetic attributes into meaningful wholes has the aim
of expressing perspectives on experience, unifying perspectives that sur-
pass the conceptualization of objects. As Rudolf Makkreel and others
have recognized, the aesthetic idea is the template for creative interpre-
tation in Kant™s aesthetic theory.12 Interpreting is a matter of conveying
a perspective through the ordering of parts into a communicative whole.
Hence it is through the notion of aesthetic ideas that Kant theorizes imag-
inative expression as an interpretative supplement to conceptual under-
standing. It supplements conceptual cognition because it goes beyond
the categorization of objects to (try to) comprehend complex contex-
tual meanings. I noted earlier that metaphorical expression is frequently
credited to an interpretive understanding, and it is no accident that many
commentators have identi¬ed a theory of metaphor in Kant™s account of
the aesthetic idea.13
Now for Kant, aesthetic ideas are the products of artistic genius.
Through them the artist seeks to express “a multitude of related rep-
resentations” (CPJ 193), and the insight of the genius is to bring these
attributes into a relation that expresses a compelling perspective. Kant
theorizes aesthetic ideas speci¬cally as the expressed content of works of
art, but I propose seeing them as the imaginative products of interpre-
tive understanding generally, throughout its contributions to our cog-
nitive endeavors. The kind of interpretive expansion of thought exem-
pli¬ed by Kant™s aesthetic idea is hardly limited to our encounters with
art; it is central to understanding as conceived by Goodman and Elgin.
Seeing the aesthetic idea in this light has the consequence of render-
ing cognition continuous with artistic production, a salutary result for
Goodman and Elgin, both of whom embrace the cognitive ef¬cacy of
art, and the creative dimension of cognition; understanding in the broad

11 See Allison (2001), 283“4.
12 Makkreel (1990), especially 118“29. Makkreel holds that aesthetic ideas “allow us to
arrive at a re¬‚ective interpretation of things that surpass nature” (129). See also my
Sublime Understanding: Aesthetic Re¬‚ection in Kant and Hegel (2000) for discussion of the
literature on this topic.
13 For discussion of the relevant literature, see Pillow (2001).
Kirk Pillow

sense that they endorse is inherently imaginative (Elgin 1996, 170“1).14
Kant locates the communication of genius in art works speci¬cally, but
seeing aesthetic ideas as the fruits of interpretive understanding allows
us to recognize the ingenuity of understanding throughout its efforts to
make coherent and compelling sense of things. Understood in this way,
“genius” is the capacity to communicate a broad and deep understand-
ing of something.15 Henry Allison has noted “an interesting and perhaps
unexpected parallel between genius and judgment” (Allison 2001, 286).
The genius is able to sense the expressive aptness of the aesthetic ideas
she creates, without the guidance of a determinate rule. The parallel is
that Kant construes judgment too as something for which no rule can be
given and so as a talent that cannot be taught: One must be able just to
see that a given object falls under a given concept (A133“4/B172“4). I
suggest that there is more than a parallel here, and that a deep connec-
tion between judgment and Kantian genius is to be expected. In contrast
to Kant, judgment in the broad interpretive sense that I am advocating
does not merely conceptualize particulars; it seeks to understand whole
contexts rich with meaning. Rich expressions of meaning are, of course,
the goal of Kant™s artistic genius, and to express aptly, she must also be
able to judge the aptness of her understanding of things. A cultivated tal-
ent for understanding richly ( judgment) and a talent for apt expression
(genius) are sides of the same coin (which is not to say that both sides of
this coin shine equally in everyone). Judging the outcomes of interpretive
understanding, furthermore, requires an ingenuity of its own, a point to
which I will return later.
Understanding conceived less narrowly than Kant conceived it
requires no sharp divide between the aesthetic and the cognitive. Despite
the divide between determinative conceptual judgment and “merely
re¬‚ective” judgment retained by Longuenesse, we have seen that the the-
ory of expression contained in Kant™s conception of the aesthetic idea

14 See also Goodman (1968), 225“65.
15 One of many problems with the romantic cult of artistic genius to which Kant contributed
is that it obscures the creativity of everyday interpretive understanding by restricting
˜true™ creativity to a mysterious few. Profound genius is not required for understanding in
the everyday (though aestheticized) sense; genius is required only for superlative feats of
understanding. Another problem with that cult is that it unduly restricts genius to artists
while denying it to the scientist because all of her knowledge is conceptually determinate
(CPJ 187“8). If we admit an interpretive dimension into understanding generally, and if
in particular we allow that good science involves much more than establishing empirical
laws or specifying taxonomies, but also requires “seeing the big picture,” then the Kantian
gap between artistic genius and scienti¬c talent closes somewhat.
Understanding Aestheticized 255

embodies the kind of interpretive understanding Goodman and Elgin
recommend. Understanding satisfactorily conceived encompasses inter-
pretive capacities traditionally misconstrued as “merely aesthetic” modes
of response, and understanding broadly conceived encompasses in par-
ticular the capacities for rich expression that Kant locates in our having
an imagination for aesthetic ideas. We may ask, then, how to regard Kant™s
theory of aesthetic experience in light of this. The question is: What can
Kant™s Analytic of Aesthetic Judgment tell us about the kind of under-
standing expressed through aesthetic ideas?
More speci¬cally, what sort of normative force does Kant™s Analytic
suggest that the products of interpretive understanding have? How do
we judge whether this understanding gets anything right? One dif¬culty
with addressing this matter is that understanding in the broad sense is
creatively interpretive, while Kant™s aesthetic theory is largely a ˜reception™
theory meant to characterize how we judge things to be beautiful and how
we respond evaluatively to aesthetic ideas. So his aesthetic theory could
not provide an account of how we exercise our capacity to understand
things interpretively, other than through the already discussed and scant
details of his notion of the aesthetic idea. But once understanding is
broadened to encompass narrowly cognitive and widely creative means
of knowing, and the aesthetic idea becomes exemplary of interpretive
efforts at understanding, Kant™s Analytic can be seen as an account of how
we assess the productions of such an understanding. What I propose then
to do is interpret the four moments of Kant™s Analytic of the Beautiful as
a partial guide to our assessment of the claims of understanding broadly
For Kant, aesthetic judgments (1) are noncognitive and disinterested;
(2) express a universal voice; (3) attend to the purposiveness of form;
and (4) appeal to a common sense for their necessity. We may see the
¬rst and third features as largely descriptive of this kind of judgment
(though I reserve discussion of disinterestedness for later). With regard
to the ¬rst moment, aesthetic re¬‚ective judgments are not determinative;

16 I say “partial” because later I will relate features of Kant™s account of aesthetic normativity
to features of Goodman and Elgin™s own standards of cognitive normativity in order to
provide an adequate picture. Note also that I focus here exclusively on Kant™s judgment
of taste and do not consider the judgment of sublimity. I have argued elsewhere that
re¬‚ection on aesthetic ideas can be best understood through Kant™s account of judging
the (mathematical) sublime; see Sublime Understanding, especially Chapter 3. Here I leave
those arguments aside in the interest of economy and work from the typical position in
the literature that the response to aesthetic ideas is a judgment of taste.
Kirk Pillow

they establish nothing about the objective properties of objects. They do
not involve the subsumption of objects under empirical concepts, for aes-
thetic experience is marked by a free interaction between imagination
and understanding rather than the legislative relation in which under-
standing™s provision of conceptual rules guides imagination™s synthesis of
the object (CPJ 44). But the noncognitive nature of aesthetic judgment
cannot imply that our response to aesthetic ideas is entirely devoid of
conceptual content, because the various attributes of an aesthetic idea
are conceptually replete. These attributes must be thought through the
various concepts that characterize them in order to be ordered into an
expressive whole. In Kant™s own example (CPJ 193), the lightning in the
claws of Jupiter™s eagle must be conceptualized as lightning in order to
be taken into account in any interpretation of the image. What is dis-
tinctive about aesthetic experience is not the utter absence of concepts
in our re¬‚ection on an object; such a complete absence is unintelligible
in any case. Instead, aesthetic experience is distinguished from cogni-
tion narrowly construed by the fact that our response to the object is not
to subsume it under a conceptual rule. Our aesthetic response instead
plays at multiple ways of appreciating a form and, in the case of works of
art, at multiple ways of construing meanings, rather than settling on any
reductive conceptual determination. To be interpretive, our response to
aesthetic ideas must draw on concepts, and this is consistent with that
response being noncognitive in the narrow sense, because interpreting
aesthetic ideas entails more than subsuming properties of objects under
predicates of concepts. Interpretive understanding is not governed by
determinative conceptual rules, but it does employ conceptual resources
while working to make sense of its object.
There has, of course, been much controversy regarding how to under-
stand the third moment of Kant™s Analytic and the extent to which it com-
mits him to a restrictively formalistic conception of aesthetic response.
The judgment of taste is for Kant directed toward the “form of purpo-
siveness” and appears to seek out this “purposiveness” in the “form” of
an object of re¬‚ection (CPJ 105“11). Rather than enter into the complex
debate over these phrases, I suggest what I hope is a plausible reading
of Kant™s view. Re¬‚ective judgment generally looks for purposiveness in
things, and this purposiveness can be understood as the appearance of
order and design that appears to suggest the work of intelligence. The
appearance of such design in nature is in turn purposive for our compre-
hension of nature as a systematic unity, Kant holds, because it suggests
that nature is amenable to such comprehension (however incomplete
Understanding Aestheticized 257

that comprehension must remain), in virtue of the fact that such a unity
in nature is imaginable to Kant only on the supposition of intelligent
design. This construal of nature remains merely regulative for Kant,
because regarding nature as purposive does not entail that we cognize it
in accordance with some determining purpose, as is the case in cognition
of actual artifacts. In the case of aesthetic re¬‚ection, we judge “purpo-
siveness without purpose” when we respond to the beautiful order or
design of something without cognizing it according to some speci¬c pur-
pose. For Kant, knowing the purpose of an object requires subsuming it
under a conceptual rule, and because aesthetic response is not cognitive
in the narrow sense, it does not cognize purposes. I think we can then
say that attending to the purposiveness of an aesthetic idea amounts to
assessing the “design” of what it expresses, that is, to interpreting its mean-
ing. Because making sense of aesthetic ideas does not involve ascribing
a determinate purpose to them, the response to them is not a matter of
¬xing their producer™s expressive intent, but rather of advancing plausi-
ble (coherent and compelling) construals of their meaning. Interpreting
aesthetic ideas means making sense of them as expressive wholes, which is
something quite different from deciding a conceptual rule under which
to categorize an object; so again, this interpreting, like the creation of
them, is noncognitive in Kant™s narrow sense of cognition. In other words,
responding to aesthetic ideas exercises the same efforts of interpretive
understanding that went into creating them. Here again, the proximity
of genius and judgment is evident.
The universal voice of the judgment of taste (second moment), along
with the role of a sensus communis in securing its claim to necessity (fourth
moment), concern the normativity of aesthetic response in Kant™s theory.
They concern whether one™s aesthetic judgment can make any claim on
the judgment of others. For my purposes, Kant™s conception of aesthetic
normativity can illuminate how we assess the normative force of cognitive
claims in the broad interpretive sense at issue here. I propose approach-
ing the matter ¬rst from the vantage point of Goodman and Elgin™s own
accounts of cognitive normativity. Doing so will allow us then to see the
cognitive relevance of Kant™s account of aesthetic normativity, so long as
cognition is allowed its creatively interpretive dimension.
For the constructivist account of knowing advanced by Goodman and
re¬ned by Elgin, “truth” is hardly the only or even the highest cognitive
value. As they point out, there is no limit to the number of insigni¬cant
truths out there, including, for example, the precise number of letters
on this page. The irrelevance of such truths renders them “alien to our
Kirk Pillow

cognitive commitments” (Elgin 1996, 124). Now, which truths matter
depends on context, and even the number of letters on this page might
matter to a compositor. Because salience is more cognitively central than
truth, any claim whose truth we would trouble ourselves to assert must
have signi¬cance in some context or other. Many claims simply have little
or no signi¬cance in many contexts. Furthermore, there may be truths so
complicated that their “assimilation into a tenable system would subvert
other cognitive objectives” (ibid.). Sometimes a strictly false simpli¬ca-
tion or a mere estimate of a numerical value serves understanding bet-
ter. Moreover, all manner of cognitive systems, including scienti¬c ones,
embrace literal falsehoods when it is ef¬cacious to do so. This occurs
each time, for example, that a salient metaphor structures a domain of
inquiry or affects the evaluation of particular ¬ndings. More signi¬cant
than mere truth for Goodman and Elgin is what they sometimes call
“rightness of ¬t”: Claims have merit when they coordinate well with our
prior commitments, either by supplementing them or by requiring worth-
while revisions to them. New claims can be ¬tting or apt, and hence worth
adopting, when the recon¬guration or rejection of some prior commit-
ments that they require appears warranted by the bene¬ts of reconceiving
something to make for a new ¬t. Fitting claims can be grafted into belief
systems without permanently undermining their re¬‚ective equilibrium,
and are worth the trouble when they afford new insight. All such cognitive
work is the key to understanding for Goodman: On his view, “knowing
or understanding is seen as ranging beyond the acquiring of true beliefs
to the discovering and devising of ¬t of all sorts” (Goodman 1978, 138).
Pragmatic considerations also play a central role in the evaluation of cog-
nitive claims: What we commit to cognitively depends on what ¬ts with
our interests and pursuits; but, just as importantly, prudent understand-
ing requires that we assess the ¬ttingness of those interests and pursuits
The constructivism that Goodman and Elgin advocate rejects the cor-
respondence theory of truth and the metaphysics usually associated with
it. Understanding is not a matter of lining oneself up with a way things
already are; understanding instead involves interacting with the world,
and construing the world along with others, in ways that make the world
an artifact of how we interpret it. Because “any structure reality may have
is imposed by a system that is informed by interests, objectives, and stan-
dards,” Elgin argues, “what truths there are is a function of what systems
we construct” (1996, 141). The “we” is crucial here, because the kind of
understanding Elgin describes is necessarily social in orientation. Because
Understanding Aestheticized 259

we cannot appeal to a given way-the-world-is-in-itself to justify our cogni-
tive claims, the appeal that interpretive understanding makes is instead
directed to others on the basis of their shared convictions. The advocate
of a particular cognitive claim makes a case for its value by attempting
to convince others that it gets something right about the world, but this
world itself is the interpreted outcome of the cognitive commitments
already endorsed and shared (implicitly or explicitly) by the advocate
and her audience. She looks to others for endorsement of her take on
things, and those “things” are themselves the results of shared efforts at
understanding. Moreover, the validity of her claims depends on whether
others adopt them and integrate the new insights into the edi¬ce of the
already understood. Her claims are epistemically validated and take on
normative weight when collective assessment of them integrates them
into our stock of tenable commitments.
This hardly implies that just any claim can be “made true” simply by
individual or collective ¬at. Whether a claim makes a lasting contribution
to our understanding of things depends on many factors, including how
well it coheres with what we already believe unswervingly and whether it
serves our interests in the long run. Many claims are simply incompati-
ble with our unrevised commitments and do not warrant disruption of
what re¬‚ective equilibrium we have achieved. But systems in re¬‚ective
equilibrium are themselves the hard-won products of collective labor;
they embody and re¬‚ect a history of shared human interests and goals.
Understanding in the broad sense is shared across communities whose
communality is a function of shared commitments. In sum, we can make
a case for the aptness of some construal of things only through appeal to
others with whom we already share a common store of cognitive commit-
ments. Only on the basis of that shared sense of things can the advocate
of some new claim hope to win the agreement of others.
Now I want to suggest that this feature of the normativity of interpretive
understanding is embodied in the sensus communis of the fourth moment
of Kant™s Analytic. Kant holds that “the should in aesthetic judgments of
taste is . . . pronounced only conditionally” because this ought relies on
the presupposition of a common sense (CPJ 121). As with most of Kant™s
aesthetic doctrines, there is much debate over how to understand this;
I propose what is a fairly standard reading.17 Several of Kant™s remarks
in the fourth moment strongly suggest that the shared sense in question
is simply the feeling of pleasure associated with the harmonious play of

17 See Allison (2001), 144“55, for a quite different interpretation.
Kirk Pillow

imagination and understanding distinctive of aesthetic experience. The
sensus communis might otherwise be identi¬ed with that harmonious play
itself. Either way, Kant™s thought is that only on the basis of this univer-
sally shared and sharable relation of cognitive powers can we insist that
others share our aesthetic judgment, and only so long as that common
sense in fact underlies the particular judgment of taste (thereby making
it a pure judgment of taste) in which one expects agreement from others.
This common sense then makes possible aesthetic normativity in Kant™s
theory, much in the way that a collective system of cognitive commit-
ments undergirds the normative force of interpretive understanding™s
new claims. Making a case for one™s claims, whether aesthetic or cog-
nitive, requires making appeal to what we already agree upon; without
this background of shared agreement we have no claim on each other.
Simply put, the potential normative force of the products of interpretive
understanding rests on already shared understandings. Kant™s notion of
an aesthetic common sense exempli¬es this kind of basis for normativity,
in particular because it does not rely on a determinate conceptual rule.
The underpinning of interpretive understanding is not ¬nally a structure
of concepts but a shared sense of how things hold together and make sense
as a whole.
Kant, of course, wants a transcendental justi¬cation of this shared
sense, which would be both unavailable to and undesirable for the inter-
pretive understanding Goodman and Elgin advocate. A shared sense of
things indeed underlies the potential normative force of understand-
ing™s claims, but its basis is a contingent history of shared convictions
rather than some necessary structural feature of cognition.18 Hence the
advocate of understanding in the historicized, coherentist, and inter-
pretive sense will inevitably be drawn to the infamous second para-
graph of §22 of the third Critique, where Kant raises the untimely ques-
tion of whether the sensus communis might be “acquired and arti¬cial”
rather than “original and natural” (CPJ 124). If it were the former, the
common sense could easily be understood as an internal principle of
the collective search for re¬‚ective equilibrium: Our shared efforts at
understanding require us to seek maximal agreement on what cogni-
tive commitments will for now condition our continued inquiries. And
whatever shared sense of things underlies our latest efforts at claims-
making is itself the outcome of long histories of seeking mutual agree-
ment about how to understand things. Kant would seem to need the

18 Or one could argue more strongly, and at odds with Kant, that a contingent history of
shared convictions is a structural requirement of cognition.
Understanding Aestheticized 261

sensus communis to be the latter, however, and indeed in Kant™s epis-
temology a free relation among cognitive powers would be “natural.”
Kant™s notorious deferral of an answer to this question has invited vari-
ous interpretations of the passage, including many that direct the com-
mon sense toward realization of the moral law, strengthening the ties
between aesthetic and moral judgment in Kant™s thought. In any case,
the possibility of a progressive cultivation of shared judgment that Kant
raises here helps us to recognize understanding as a history of crafting
shared commitments, so long as one sees the common sense as under-
pinning not only aesthetic judgments but our interpretive efforts
I have applied Kant™s Analytic of Aesthetic Judgment to assessment
of the products of an interpretive understanding. We have seen that its
“aesthetic ideas” compel “ that is, they have normative force “ when they
provide a coherent and compelling ordering of some features of experi-
ence, an ordering that ¬ts with established commitments and helps satisfy
established cognitive and practical interests. The shared commitments
understanding has already achieved provide the basis from which we
make claims for the normativity of new potential insights. The expression
of understanding through aesthetic ideas, and the normative grounding
of aesthetic ideas in a common sense, show that the aesthetic dimension
of Kant™s thought provides resources for articulating the “art of judgment”
practiced by cognitive agents who interpret the world richly and do not
merely subsume objects under concepts. We practice this artistry both
when we advance new interpretations and when we evaluate the propos-
als of others. Our evaluations respond to demands for agreement made
upon us, and seen in this light, what Kant calls “taste” can be under-
stood as skill at judging the work of understanding. While separating
the aesthetic and cognitive dimensions of understanding entails specify-
ing a distinctive taste peculiar to aesthetic normativity, integrating them
results in judgments that make taste an integral element of both practic-
ing and assessing an interpretive understanding. That is, the taste integral
to understanding in the broad sense is a cultivated talent for interpreting
and for recognizing the relative aptness and insightfulness of interpreta-
tions. As seen earlier, this again shows genius and judgment to be paired
concepts; ingenuity is required to advance understanding, but also to
exercise the judgment through which we assess its claims.19

19 In one of his discussions of the relation between genius and taste, Kant holds that imag-
ination, understanding, and spirit (the animating principle of artistic genius) are all
united in taste, which is to say sound aesthetic judgment; see CPJ §50, 196“7.
Kirk Pillow

Yet, while interpretive understanding relies on a common sense of
things, we have seen that the cognitive value of its claims depends in part
on pragmatic considerations tied to the variety of human interests. For
this reason, assessment of its products cannot be divorced from those
interests and cannot be undertaken from any purely disinterested point
of view. In this respect, then, how we assess the output of a broad under-
standing is squarely at odds with the requirement of disinterestedness
that Kant makes fundamental to the pure judgment of taste in the ¬rst
moment of his Analytic. The Kantian aesthetic judge™s complete indif-
ference to the existence of the object of her re¬‚ection (CPJ 90“1), her
unconcern for what could be done with or gained from it, is incompati-
ble with how we decide whether to embrace new cognitive commitments.
Our reasons for embracing cognitive claims always re¬‚ect human inter-
ests; to require pure disinterestedness from interpretive understanding
would be self-defeating.
This nevertheless leaves room for a weaker sense in which our judg-
ment of new cognitive claims should be unprejudiced. That is, new claims
should be assessed with an open mind, in a critically self-aware manner
that does not stack the deck against them in advance. Not only is there
room for an open mind; such fairness in judgment is required of an
interpretive understanding, for this requirement is in fact built into the
pursuit of re¬‚ective equilibrium. Understanding cannot be maintained
statically but must always be prepared to give due consideration to insights
that shake the epistemic status quo. “Forced to concede fallibility,” Elgin
writes, an interpretive understanding “incorporates devices for reviewing
accepted commitments and correcting or rejecting them should errors
emerge” (1996, 132). Due consideration of whether to accept or reject
speci¬c claims requires open-mindedness, but not disinterestedness of
Kant™s pure aesthetic sort.
The normativity of interpretive understanding cannot depend on a
purely disinterested evaluation of its products, and so this reading of
Kant™s theory of aesthetic judgment cannot accommodate the proposed
disinterestedness of his pure judgment of taste. One might hold that the
aesthetic dimension of human understanding can only be impure, moti-
vated indeed by speci¬c interests, but attempt to preserve Kant™s judg-
ment of taste in some noncognitive realm of pure aestheticism. But there
is little reason to imagine that such a land of untrammeled aesthetic value
actually exists and little reason to wish for it. Few philosophers working in
the ¬eld of aesthetics today, and even fewer art-critical practitioners in our
arts institutions, take strict disinterestedness seriously as a requirement
Understanding Aestheticized 263

of cultivated aesthetic judgment. They would allow that taste is stunted
when made merely the lapdog of unre¬‚ective prejudice, and they would
encourage us to approach new work with an open mind. But they would
reject the quite implausible notion that we are somehow to set aside the
interests that make us who we are when we enter the hallowed sphere of
art. There is in fact little relation between taste as it is cultivated by rea-
sonable people today and the disinterestedness requirement of classical
German aesthetic theory. Indeed, the aesthetic autonomy tenet that moti-
vated the pure aestheticism of the now-dated German aesthetic theories
of the avant-garde has little bearing on the practices of contemporary
art and art criticism. To advocate disinterested aestheticism today is to
betray a willful ignorance of what artists are making and of how critics
are reasonably responding.
The requirement of pure disinterestedness lodged in Kant™s aesthetic
theory has hindered recognition of the relevance of his account of
aesthetic judgment to the interpretive dimension of human cognition.
The aesthetic disinterestedness requirement hinders this recognition
because interpretive understanding represents our interests through and
through. My goal here has been to propose that Kant helps us see the way
to a uni¬cation of the cognitive and the aesthetic, so long as we under-
stand cognition more richly than as conceptual subsumption and so long
as we are not tempted by the chimera of pure aesthetic disinterest. But on
most accounts of Kant™s aesthetic theory, the disinterestedness of taste is
essential to grounding its “universal voice.” Kant holds that it is because
your aesthetic judgment is not conditioned upon any private interest that
you are entitled to claim that others ought to share your judgment (CPJ
96“7). Impure judgments of taste void their claim to universality because
they are based on private conditions, that is, they are merely judgments
of sense. In order to see how one can preserve a normative force for
aesthetic judgment without depending on a condition of disinterest, I
propose that we should reconsider, along lines already surveyed, the sort
of universality that we should expect from aesthetic judgment. Doing so
can provide a practicable account of the potential normativity of its deliv-
erances, and so also, then, of the claims of interpretive understanding.
Advocates of aesthetic and cognitive claims appeal to a background of
aesthetic and cognitive commitments already shared with those to whom
the claims are made. Only by appeal to this shared sense of how things
are (and what is aesthetically valuable) can we make a demand on others
to recognize the rightness of a new claim. Only having already agreed on
many things (implicitly or explicitly) can we demand that others agree
Kirk Pillow

with something more, such as the insightfulness of a particular artist™s
work or the rightness of some construal of empirical evidence. But this
means, as we have seen, that the claims of interpretive understanding
are only conditionally valid (when valid at all): If we share this sense of
how things are, then you may insist that I agree with your judgment of an
artist, because that should be my judgment also. Given a shared basis of
aesthetic and cognitive commitments and interests (a basis itself the out-
come of prior re¬‚ective commitments), judgments can have normative
force among all those who share that basis suf¬ciently. But the judgments
in which we evaluate the claims of an interpretive understanding cannot
have universal necessity, nor can any of the claims themselves, because
what normativity they do have rests on empirically and historically con-
tingent aspects of the re¬‚ective equilibrium at which we happen to have
arrived. Their normativity is restricted by the bounds of the community
of inquirers to which the claim is addressed. I suggest that we call this
limited normativity a ˜localized universality™. The claims of interpretive
understanding, and our assessments of those claims, can demand agree-
ment only from those (however few or many) who share the commitments
that invited and accommodated such new claims and judgments in the
¬rst place.
This conclusion carries us well away from Kant™s own epistemological
commitments, of course. Fundamental cognitive and moral judgments
are unconditionally necessary for Kant, because they have a basis in cat-
egorial and categorical features of rationality. And while for Kant aes-
thetic judgment is conditional, because it presupposes a common sense,
this condition is nevertheless conceived as an a priori cognitive structure,
thus supposedly preserving the universality and necessity of the judgment.
But the quest for universality and necessity at the heart of Kant™s thought
can only be joined by ignoring the myriad philosophical realizations of
the twentieth century that place such a pursuit in question. The com-
pelling challenges to the analytic“synthetic distinction, the unraveling of
the distinction between scheme and content, as well as the distinction
between fact and value, the integration of emotion into cognition, and
the neo-pragmatist reconception of knowing make transcendental ide-
alism a hard pill to swallow. I think it better to recognize the extent to
which Kant™s great efforts to place distinct aesthetic and cognitive expe-
riences into an architectonic whole paved the way for the collapse of
this sharp distinction as well. Understanding, loosed from the narrow
task of generating and applying conceptual rules, strives to make sense
of how things hang together “ and does so with an interpretive ¬nesse
Understanding Aestheticized 265

and a felt sense for things erroneously relegated, by our tradition, to
the province of aesthetic play. Understanding aestheticized is also under-
standing reimagined in ways more consonant with the creative ingenuity
of our actual cognitive efforts.
What must go unful¬lled, however, by the merger of the aesthetic and
the cognitive into an interpretive understanding is the desire for aes-
thetic or cognitive necessity embodied, for example, in Kant™s disinter-
estedness requirement. But this desire is one that Elgin and others invite
us to get over “ though without needing to give up normativity. Short of
certainty, we make do with the best we have: the vast store of agreements
we at present have no reason to revise. This wealth of understanding is
the legacy of a history of practicing the art of making exemplary sense
of things, the art of re¬‚ective judgment envisioned, if inadequately, by
Kant. The key to ful¬lling what Kant sensed under the title “re¬‚ective
judgment” is to situate within understanding the ˜merely™ re¬‚ective judg-
ments that Longuenesse follows Kant in relegating to an aesthetic pre-
serve. Understanding, allowed its creative, metaphorical, interpretive,
aesthetic dimensions, grasps a richly meaningful world more complex
than a system of concepts, but also makes itself at home in a world without

20 Grateful thanks to Catherine Z. Elgin for helpful and improving comments on a draft
of this essay.

Unearthing the Wonder
A “Post-Kantian” Paradigm in Kant™s Critique
of Judgment

John McCumber

1. self-critical note
There are moments when even the most rari¬ed philosophical texts
betray a certain helplessness on the part of their creators “ helplessness
that is not mere confusion or folly, but a kind of rational desperation
occasioned by the authors™ discovery that without their intentions, or
even against their will, something foreign and unsought, yet intelligent,
is surging into their philosophy.
Hume wrote feelingly of this experience in the Conclusion to Book
I of his Treatise.1 Plato, in the Phaedrus, made it a condition for philoso-
phy, when the sight of the beloved “knocks” the wandering soul out of
itself (ekplˆttontai kai ouketi hautˆn gignontai, 250a7). Aristotle helpfully de-
e o
eroticizes Platonic ekplexia into thaumasia, the “wonder” with which philos-
ophy begins (Metaphysics I.2, 982b12). At such moments the philosopher
loses dominance and gives way. But to what, other than philosophy itself?
Philosophy is not always an intentional production of the human intel-
lect, then. Sometimes it just happens. When it does, if Aristotle is right,
it happens as a wonder (thauma).
As Daniel Dahlstrom has noted, Kant too writes of thaumasia “ when,
in the Introduction to the Critique of the Power of Judgment, he invokes the
“quite noticeable pleasure, even wonder” (Bewunderung) that we fall into
when nature shows us a contingent uni¬cation of two or more empirical
laws.2 To be sure, Kant relates this feeling to empirical research rather

1 See Hume (1978), 263“74.
2 Critique of Judgment 187. All references to Kant will be given parenthetically and will
be to the volume and page of the Akademie edition. These page numbers are given

Unearthing the Wonder 267

than to philosophy; it is occasioned by something one ¬nds rather than
something one produces. But this silence regarding the intrusion of won-
der into philosophy does not mean that Kant was immune to thaumasia.
It may show only that he wanted to be.
In this essay, I shall be tracing one way in which I think philosophy hap-
pens to Kant in the course of the Critique of the Power of Judgment “ when,
taking up the transcendental cudgels against the philosophy-without-
standards of Schw¨ rmerei and the Sturm und Drang, he ¬nds himself artic-
ulating a way of doing philosophy that neither appeals to a necessary
foundation nor abandons critical principles altogether.
On this “post-Kantian” paradigm, morality is grounded, neither a
priori nor in particular experiences, but in the way experiences can ¬t
together. The main name I associate with this approach is Hegel, but
seeing him in this way means seeing the relation of Hegel to Kant dif-
ferently than is usually done. To put roughly what I have argued for
elsewhere:3 Hegel is not “expanding” the Kantian approach, whether
by reintroducing the metaphysics Kant had so effectively demolished,
by claiming to know things-in-themselves, or by allowing the transcen-
dental subject somehow to “produce” reality, which could then only be
transparent to human reason. Rather, Hegel is cutting back the critical
philosophy™s pretensions to timeless knowledge to a point where moral
ideas such as God and freedom are grounded not in a “supersensible”
realm or perspective, but simply as ways in which our experience can be
made to cohere. Hegel™s “absolute idealism” is then best understood as
a sort of “coherentist empiricism.” Such a wide-ranging set of claims can
hardly be justi¬ed in a single essay. In this connection I should point out
that thaumasia happens, not merely to philosophers in general, but to
historians of philosophy in particular. The present document expresses
the amazement I feel when I contemplate what happened to Kant at
the unloving hands of Hegel. It is not an exercise in Kant scholarship.
Instead, it aims to show how we can carve up the Critique of the Power of
Judgment and reassemble some of the pieces into a very different picture
of philosophy. It is the outcome not of dispassionate investigation, but
of a quarter century of obsessive struggle. And that, too, is a wonder of
Kant: that even those who disagree with him most strenuously must always
aspire to be his pupils.

marginally in Kant (2000). All translations are my own. On Bewundering and thaumasia,
see Dahltstrom (1999), 24.
3 See McCumber (2002) and, more generally, McCumber (1993).
John McCumber

2. what enlightenment isn™t
Tradition and clich´ have it that Kant was the last great ahistorical thinker.
But in his in¬‚uential essay “What Is Enlightenment?” Michel Foucault
(1994) showed that Kant in fact had a very astute view of history and
of the place of his philosophical labors in it. One thing Kant is not very
astute about, on Foucault™s reading, is de¬ning his terms: Aufkl¨ rung itself
is de¬ned, says Foucault, d™une facon presque enti`rement negative, comme une
¸ e
Ausgang, une “sortie,” une “issue.” These characterizations are not only
negative but metaphorical; perhaps, however, we need not leave matters
there. Unmentioned by Foucault are the teleological and aesthetic cat-
egories that run through Kant™s essay (published in 1783, seven years
before the Critique of the Power of Judgment). Could attention to them
yield a more positive account of enlightenment? Teleology™s countercat-
egory, mechanism, certainly ¬nds a place in the essay, for statutes and
formulas, the “hobbles of immature reason,” are explicitly identi¬ed as
“mechanical” (VIII:36).5 Unenlightened society itself is “mechanical” in
that some of its members must be kept in a passive condition, as mere
parts of a machine (VIII: 37). If what we might call ˜unenlightenment™
is mechanical in this way, then we might go on to suspect that enlighten-
ment for Kant is teleological, a process with a goal.
But in fact, not even the unenlightened society is a mere mechanism,
for the “public” has in¬‚uence on its leaders: It forces them to do its
thinking for it, since its members cannot think for themselves (VIII:36).
At once cause and effect of itself in this way, the unenlightened public
prolongs its own unenlightened state up to a “perpetualizing of absurdi-
ties” (Verewigung der Ungereimtheiten: VIII:38).6
Even the unenlightened individual, therefore, is not merely a passive
cog in the machine of state but belongs to two orders at once: She is both

4 Foucault (1994), 564.
5 These page numbers are given marginally in “What Is Enlightenment?” in Kant (1996),
6 Though the view that leaders and public reciprocally perpetuate the unenlightened con-
dition of society sounds like Kant™s characterization, at Critique of the Power of Judgment
§64, of an organized being as “cause and effect of itself” (V:370), I think that it would
be wrong to conclude that an unenlightened society has a teleological structure or is a
“natural purpose.” For a natural purpose, or an organized being, has a unity expressible
in a concept; an unenlightened society, by contrast, is not uni¬ed, since it is composed of
active leaders and passive subjects, and the “perpetuation of absurdities” to which it leads
is not a concept. The mutual causation of leaders and public seems rather to designate the
point in the mechanical equilibrium of an unenlightened society at which a teleological
development toward enlightenment can take hold.
Unearthing the Wonder 269

a part of the machine and a member of the community (des gemeinen
Wesens). In her latter capacity she is able to address the public at large,
that is, to be a “scholar” (VIII:37). Enlightenment begins when the few
independent thinkers who are always around (VIII:36) are able to address
the public freely. The increasing independence of the public, as it is
educated by these few, leads the government to relax its restrictions on
public discourse, which in turn leads to still more independent thinking
on the part of more and more members of the public.
Enlightenment, too, becomes a self-perpetuating motion, but in the
other direction. This happens when the government comes to see that
freedom of public discourse in no way hinders its own legislative activity,
that is, its capacity to make the subjects obey (VIII:40, 41). Free thought,
beginning with the writings of a few independent thinkers, thus “gradually
works back on the common sensibility (Sinnesart) of the people . . . and
eventually even upon the principles of the government” itself (VIII:41“
42). People, public, independent thinkers, and government thus stand
in a play of mutual transformations in the course of which humans work
themselves up out of their original crudeness (Rohigkeit, VIII:41).
Enlightenment is thus a process in which public and government are
reciprocal causes of one another; it leads toward a goal (enlightenment
itself), and so the “second order” to which the individual belongs is that
of society as what Kant will, in the Critique of the Power of Judgment, call
an “organized being.” Is there enough here for a “positive de¬nition” of
enlightenment? Or must we agree with Foucault?
Neither, quite yet. Kant has described the process of enlightenment
but not its telos, for independent thinking itself has goals “ the conclu-
sions of the arguments conduced in it “ and Kant refuses to specify what
conclusions enlightened discourse will reach. This is not mere prudence
on his part but a principled refusal. Kant™s famous interdiction on any
generation legislating religious doctrine to future generations holds not
merely for that special pressing case but in general:

One epoch cannot bind itself and conspire to place the following one in a condi-
tion such that it must become impossible for the later age to extend its cognition
(especially in such pressing matters), to cleanse it of errors, and in general to
progress further in enlightenment. That would be a crime against human nature,
whose original determination lies precisely in such progress. (VIII:39)

While it is not merely mechanical, enlightenment is also not teleological,
for it never arrives at a de¬nitive result. Every truth attained through
public discourse is susceptible to critique and correction by later thinkers.
John McCumber

Kant has thus described, under the name of enlightenment, a process that
has no end, a teleology without telos. In the terms of the Critique of the Power
of Judgment, for which beauty is “purposiveness without purpose” (V:220),
the enlightened society would be not merely organized but beautiful. If
enlightenment is its culmination, it seems that history itself must also be
In the passage I cited earlier, Foucault suggests that Kant does not
de¬ne enlightenment other than negatively because he is not interested
in a future state, but in the difference enlightenment introduces into pre-
viously unenlightened society. But Kant is in fact no postmodern acolyte
of difference. Enlightenment remains unde¬ned by Kant, not only in the
service of human nature and progress (as the preceding quote has it),
but on philosophical grounds that the later Critique of the Power of Judgment
makes quite clear. There is nothing that enlightenment cannot call into
question and abandon “ even its most basic “principles of government”
(those of autonomy and the moral law would surely count as such) are
open to criticism and rejection. As an organized but thoroughly fallibilis-
tic process, enlightenment is beautiful rather than teleological in nature “
and beauty, being nonconceptual, cannot be de¬ned.

3. a problem with enlightenment
History™s culmination in enlightenment will be speci¬ed more closely by
the Critique of Judgment, §§83“4, where history™s goal turns out to be not
merely the free play of enlightened discourse, but the narrower notion
of humanity under moral law (one can certainly see oneself as willing to
submit all one™s views to criticism, and so as being “enlightened,” with-
out seeing oneself as under the Kantian moral law). Kant™s earlier view
that history™s goal is more indeterminate than that was to ¬nd its most
powerful echo in Schiller™s Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Humanity:

Does such a state of beautiful semblance really exist? And if so, where is it to be
found? . . . One will ¬nd it only . . . in some few chosen circles, where conduct is
governed, not by some soulless imitation of the customs of others, but one™s own
aesthetic nature directs; where humans move with daring simplicity and tranquil
innocence through even the most complicated situations and do not need either
to injure the freedom of others, in order to maintain their own, or to shed their
dignity to show grace.7

7 Schiller (1983), 218, my translation. Also cf. McCumber (1999).
Unearthing the Wonder 271

Enlightenment is here given an explicitly aesthetic dimension, and
one that reaches a conclusion even more empty than in Kant™s essay “
merely acting “as one™s aesthetic nature directs,” in “simplicity and tran-
quil innocence.” From Schiller™s point of view, the idea of humanity under
moral law is far too speci¬c to be the proper conclusion of the process of
enlightenment, and indeed represents a sort of alien intrusion into the
purposiveness-without-purpose that constitutes that process.
Humanity under moral law is, of course, central to Kant™s whole
transcendental-practical standpoint, which as a priori is independent of
experience. This leads to a further contrast between his approach and
Schiller™s. Morality, for Schiller, is not a priori but grows out of aesthetic
experience. If we can get moral guidance from aesthetic experience,
however, we do not need Kantian appeals to an ethical a priori. Without
that ethical motivation, in Schiller™s view, the whole Kantian transcenden-
tal realm falls. Philosophy (though Schiller does not put it this way) is
returned to 1783, when Kant wrote his astute critique of German society
without any appeal to an a priori dimension and maintained that even
what is (politically) most basic, the very “principles of the government,”
is subject to critique and revision in light of further experience.
When we compare “What Is Enlightenment?” with the Critique of the
Power of Judgment in this perspective, we see that Kant has run into a prob-
lem. It can be put as follows. John Zammito has shown that Kant wrote
the Critique of the Power of Judgment in part to counter some of Schiller™s
forerunners, in particular Herder and Hamann.8 Only a properly
grounded philosophy can avoid the Schw¨ rmerei Kant ¬nds in the Sturm
und Drang and related thinkers “ the tendency to push thought beyond
possible experience without any standards for doing so. Philosophy must
be grounded in such standards, and Kant “ following almost the entire
philosophical tradition “ believes that philosophy™s grounding must be
“absolutely necessary” (IV:xv; also cf. III:xxii“xxiv). As the Schematism
tells us, however, to be necessary is to hold for all time (cf. III:184). In
the Critique of the Power of Judgment, then, Kant ¬ghts off Schw¨ rmerei by
pursuing a philosophy that is to hold for all time. But is he, the philoso-
pher, not thereby trying to do just what, in “What Is Enlightenment?”,
he had forbidden to the clerics “ to place limits on the free thought of
future generations? If he abandons those limits, however, does he not
move to a Schillerian position, abandon the transcendental standpoint,
and slip into Schw¨ rmerei? Behind this dilemma is the assumption, still

8 Zammito (1992), 9“11, 35“44.
John McCumber

current today, that any philosophy that is not timelessly “necessary” is
mere Schw¨ rmerei in the general sense of enthusiasm without standards.
But need it be so? Is Kant, in his zeal to rescue philosophy from the
bathwater of Schw¨ rmerei, throwing some babies out as well?
I will argue here that in the course of trying to show that aesthetic
experience is not to be seen in terms of the enthusiasm of “genius” but
as disciplined by taste and so by transcendental principles, Kant ¬nds
himself articulating a way of doing philosophy that is neither the undisci-
plined “expectorations”9 of enthusiasts like Hamann nor the crystalline
abstractions of the Critical Philosophy. I will focus, though brie¬‚y, on four
seemingly separate discussions in the Critique of the Power of Judgment: those
of the “ideal of beauty” (§17), of common sense (§§20“22), of “enlarged
thought” (§40), and of the “cultivation of reason” (§32).
Kant seems to ¬ght this new philosophy at every step. He refutes or den-
igrates its main claims. He abruptly terminates discussions that could have
clari¬ed aspects of it. He never links the speci¬c insights he is presenting
into a new philosophical paradigm. He never even suggests that such a
thing can be done. But his intelligence and integrity are so wonder-ful that
he nonetheless articulates basic features of a “post-Kantian” paradigm in
exemplary fashion “ if we only know where to ¬nd them and how to
connect them with each other.

4. aesthetic standard ideas
The ¬rst place to look, I think, is Kant™s account of the “aesthetic standard
idea” (¨ sthetische Normalidee). This comes up in §17 as part of the third
moment of re¬‚ective judgment, that of “relation”; the relation involved is
that of causality. To summarize much of the Critique of the Power of Judgment
up to that point, we can say that in attributing purposiveness to a thing,
we claim that the concept of the thing had a causal role in bringing that
thing about. Beautiful objects do not have concepts, for the judgment
that a thing is beautiful has a feeling in place of a predicate. Such a
judgment therefore does not yield knowledge of its object, and in that
sense it is purely subjective. But because the feeling in question is a priori,
that is, it is the result purely of the faculties of the individual coming into
harmony with one another, it is a feeling that can in principle be shared by
all beings who have the same faculties I do “ that is, by all human beings.

9 As Hegel would call Hamann™s thought. See Hegel, “Hamanns Schriften,” in Hegel
Unearthing the Wonder 273

The feeling is thus “universally communicable,” though not necessarily
universally communicated. If an object arouses this particular feeling, it is
beautiful; if it arouses it “among all ages and peoples,” then we are prone
to think that it likely creates that feeling for everybody. Some objects are
therefore more exemplary of beauty than others.10
Kant™s argument here, as throughout the Critique of Judgment, bears
against Schw¨ rmerei: He is seeking to show that although aesthetic expe-
rience is subjective, it is not entirely without standards, standards that we
cannot invent at will. The trouble is that, since there is no concept of
beauty, it is impossible to say what the standards are by which we judge
something to be beautiful. How, then, can some objects be possessed of
exemplary beauty? What would such beauty be an example of ?
The answer lies in the fact that not all experience of beauty is wholly
without concepts. Suppose that we try, as Reason always tries, to formu-
late the idea of the most beautiful possible thing (V:232). Since beauty
cannot be conceptually de¬ned, such an idea must be presented as an
intuition, and so is more appropriately called an ˜ideal™ than an ˜idea™.11
Such an intuition, moreover, cannot be an instance of what Kant calls
“free beauty,” which is a matter of pure aesthetic (sensory) form and
cannot be de¬ned in any way (V:229“31). Since free beauty cannot be
de¬ned, a given case of it cannot be compared with anything, and so we
could never say of a free beauty that it is the most beautiful possible thing.
In order to compare a thing with other things, even with respect to its
beauty, we must therefore know its species, which in turn is given through
its concept. It follows that the ideal of the most beautiful possible thing
will not be given in a purely re¬‚ective judgment, but in one that contains
an intellectual component (V:233).
The ideal of beauty has two components, the ˜standard idea™ and the
˜ideal™ per se. These come about in different ways. What I will call the
˜aesthetic standard idea™ (¨ sthetische Normalidee) is formed inductively “
indeed, automatically or “in a manner wholly beyond our grasp” (V:233“
4), similarly to the way computer images are formed today by taking
a large number of human faces and “averaging” them together, thus

10 It is not material to Kant™s argument that there be universal agreement on the beauty
of any single object. No object compels everyone to ¬nd it beautiful: There will likely
always be at least a few who do not. The fact that some objects can raise claims to such
beauty suf¬ces to establish the view that some objects are, in my term, more exemplary
of beauty than others.
11 For the distinction between an idea and an ideal, see the Critique of Pure Reason™s discussion
of the “ideal of pure reason” at III:595“9.
John McCumber

producing a perfect, and perfectly bland, “average face.”12 Thus, says
Kant, my mind takes the greatest height I normally perceive for a man,
and the smallest, and averages them together to come up with a standard
idea of normal male height. This idea is present in my mind as an image,
not as a concept, and tells me what men are “supposed” to look like. I can
use it as a standard for evaluating people (“he™s rather short,” “he™s awfully
tall”). Since the image is a standard for evaluating sensory experience,
we can (and do) call objects that resemble it “beautiful.” And an object
that approaches particularly closely to this standard idea is exemplary of
such beauty.
This sense of beauty is, of course, hardly Kant™s own. Because it is
merely an average of all the people we have seen, the standard idea
does not provide an archetype of beauty but merely gives us what Rudolf
Makkreel calls the “minimal condition” for beauty.13 Someone who does
not approach it cannot be beautiful, but there is more to human beauty
than the standard idea (V:235).
Kant points out (V:234) that the idea of beauty arrived at in this way
will be culturally relative. If I grow up in Cameroon or China, my original
data of average human appearance will be different than if I grow up in
The other component of the ideal of beauty is the ideal of beauty
itself. The species of a thing, its “form,” is its “inner purpose.” The ideal
of beauty must involve the attribution of a thing of such an inner purpose.
But the purpose involved here cannot be so determinate that it provides
conceptual content, which would take us out of the domain of beauty alto-
gether (V:233). We thus need, for our ideal of beauty, an object whose
inner purpose is as close to indeterminate as it can be without ceasing
to be a “form” at all. Such a minimally determinate inner purpose, how-
ever, is exhibited by a human being. For the nature of a human being
is just the generic capacity to adopt speci¬c ends: The human being is
the being that can set its own purposes. The capacity to do this is human
freedom. Hence, the only species that permits us to form an idea of
maximum beauty is the human being. So the ideal of beauty is the repre-
sentation of a human body as capable of setting its own purposes, that is,

12 This analogy should not be taken to imply that the formation of an aesthetic standard
idea has no a priori component; computers, after all, are programmed by humans. In
this case, as Rudolf A. Makkreel points out, the a priori component is the purposiveness
inherent in the concept of a species (1990, 114).
13 Ibid., 117.
Unearthing the Wonder 275

as free.14 Freedom, for Kant, is not supposed to be given any sensible
representation; yet here it seems to gain one. This is possible for Kant
because freedom, though not sensible itself, is supposed to have sensible
effects (V:175). Some of those effects are on the body of a person who
is acting freely “ a glint in the eyes, for example, or a certain alert dispo-
sition of bodily parts (one thinks of the Moses of Michelangelo). In and
of itself, of course, a glint in the eye cannot be a direct manifestation of
freedom. Only on the basis of our a priori knowledge of what freedom
is can we take it that way (V:235). The ideal of beauty thus has a priori
There are two important issues, for my purposes, that Kant does
not broach here. One concerns the ways aesthetic standard ideas can
change. What happens to me if I grow up in Germany and then move
to Cameroon? Will my standard idea of human beauty not change? Will
it not become more general, enlarged by my richer experience? Kant
does not mention this possibility. His concern is merely to sketch “to
some extent” the psychological process by which we form aesthetic stan-
dard ideas (V:233). He presents that process as automatic and, indeed,
as we saw, as unconscious. The transformation of aesthetic standard ideas
in light of new experiences is more complex than the simple running
together of images that Kant is talking about, and is correspondingly
unlikely to be automatic or unconscious.
The second issue that Kant leaves undetermined is linked with this
one. It concerns the relation between aesthetic standard ideas and con-
cepts. In accordance with his radically dynamic view of the mind, Kant
views concepts as rules “ speci¬cally, as rules for subsumption.16 If I see
something that is a rational animal, for example, I am to call that a human

14 Our capacity to determine our own purposes in accordance with “essential and universal
purposes” is, to be sure, not the same thing as determining them in accordance with
an a priori moral law; the capacity to set one™s purposes “by reason” (durch Vernunft)
corresponds, I take it, to the looser conception of the goal of enlightenment presented
in “What Is Enlightenment?”.
15 I leave open here whether what Kant here calls an “expression” (Ausdruck, 235) of the
moral is what he will in §59 call a “symbol” of it; for an argument that it is, see Johnson
(1985), 271“2. The strange insouciance with which Kant speaks, on 235, not merely of
symbols but of “expressions of the moral” (Ausdr¨ cke des Sittlichen) can be alleviated if we
take the “moral” referred here to correspond to the wider sense of the goal of history I
have located in “What Is Enlightenment?”. Human freedom so understood includes the
capacity, indeed the propensity, to set evil ends for oneself (cf. Kant, Religion within the
Boundaries of Mere Reason, VI:29“31). It is thus less determinate and more empirical than
humanity under moral law.
16 See the discussion in the A version of the Critique of Pure Reason, IV:106.
John McCumber

being; and the concept of human being (“a human being is a rational
animal”) is the rule that tells me to do this. The aesthetic standard idea
is an image, not a rule; but the characteristics of that image can be given
separate formulation, and what they would then formulate would be rules
for judging something to be beautiful in its kind. They would thus count
as a speci¬cation of what that kind is, and so as a formulation of the
concept of that kind. Do aesthetic standard ideas play a role in concept
Kant does not tell us. He does tell us that “it is in accordance with this
idea that rules for judging (Beurteilung) become possible in the ¬rst place”
(V:234), but as Makkreel points out, there are a couple of problems with
this sentence. In the ¬rst place, it is ambiguous: It does not tell us whether
the aesthetic standard idea prescribes rules for judging, as a concept would,
or whether they can merely be derived from it. Moreover, the word Kant
uses here for ˜judging™ (Beurteilung) is obscure; in context, it seems not
to refer to deciding whether something is a human being or not, which
is what the concept of human being allows us to do, but to be used
in a speci¬cally aesthetic context to cover what Makkreel calls “judging
whether an empirical ¬gure accords with the archetype used by nature
in producing its species”17
Kant might say that the characteristics of an aesthetic standard idea,
when formulated explicitly, are not concepts simply because the idea in
question here is aesthetic, which for him places it securely in a noncog-
nitive part of the mind (this would square with the apparent contextual
meaning of Beurteilung noted previously). But suppose that we do not
accept the absolute nature of the various distinctions Kant makes among
the mind™s faculties. What is to keep us from saying that in fact the stan-
dard idea of something yields the concept of that kind of thing? Such
a reading would not wholly negate Kant™s main point in classifying aes-
thetic standard ideas as ˜aesthetic™, for it would not allow us to formulate
rules for calling something beautiful in the properly Kantian sense. What
we could derive from aesthetic standard ideas so construed are rules for
calling something a member of its kind “ a house, say, or a swan. This, I
take it, is simply a development of the cognitive dimension Kant assigns
to accessory beauty (pulchritudo ahdaerens). As Kant asserts in §16, such
beauty presupposes a concept; since he views aesthetic standard ideas as
produced by the “congruence” of images of instances of that concept

17 Makkreel (1990), 115“16. Later Kant does call it a rule, but in a special sense in which
the sculptures of Polyclitus and Myron were called rules (235).
Unearthing the Wonder 277

with each other, he does not see that new experiences could change the
idea and hence any concept derived from it.
Suppose, now, that we resolve the two issues Kant leaves open by saying
that the features of aesthetic standard ideas can indeed be formulated
as concepts, and that aesthetic standard ideas can change in light of new
experiences. Then we have a picture of concepts evolving in a process
that we might call ˜development by incongruity™.18
My earlier question about the German who moves to Cameroon would
furnish a case of this, but the process of development-by-incongruity that
I have in mind is not restricted to our acquaintance with the concept
of humankind. Suppose that you grow up in northern Michigan. One
of the ¬rst universals you notice is the average size of the enclosures in
which people spend a lot of their time, and from this you form a concept
of ˜house™. But because in northern Michigan all the houses are built of
wood, you think that a house is a dwelling made of wood. Then you move
to Arizona and discover houses that, incongruously, are made of other
materials. You modify your concept of house accordingly.
This happens on a social level too, provoking change not in private
concepts but in language itself: For a long time, Europeans legendarily
thought that ˜white™ was part of the de¬nition of ˜swan™. When they went
to Australia and discovered black swans, they had to change the de¬nition
of swan. The same thing happened, of course, and much more horribly,
with the concept of ˜human being™. Science, at times at least, also works
this way. Atomic theory forced us to rede¬ne the traditional view of bodies
as ˜solids™. Einstein rede¬ned the words ˜space™, ˜time™, ˜mass™, ˜energy™,
and several more.
Taking aesthetic standard ideas to be a resource for formulating rules
of subsumption “ that is concepts “ and adding in the possibility that
concepts may be formulated out of experiences that at ¬rst seem incon-
gruous, provides a view of conceptual change that contrasts instructively
with theories of concept formation in three ways.19

18 This sort of thing is usually talked about, of course, in terms of anomalies to gener-
alizations. I am talking of incongruities to concepts in order to retain some of Kant™s
vocabulary on the issue.
19 On this, see Stern (1977). In her contribution to this volume, Hannah Ginsborg provides
grounds for another reason why Kant would not view his account here as an account of
concept formation, which is that concepts, as rules, have a normative dimension. To have
a concept is to impute to others the possession of the same concept “ the concepts that I
have are the ones others ought to have. If aesthetic normal ideas, being merely the results
of contingent processes of induction, make no such normative claim, then they and the
rules they make possible are very far from being concepts. That Kant held some such view
John McCumber

It is, to begin with, unlikely that we will ever have a general theory
of concept formation, for concept formation proceeds very differently
in different domains. Religious concepts are formed differently from
those in astrophysics, and those in turn are formed very differently from
concepts in family law. What we have here is not an overall theory of
anything, but at most something that could be formulated as the general
form for a number of theories of concept formation in speci¬c ¬elds.
Second, what we actually have here is an account of conceptual
re formation rather than formation: I must already have acquired such
concepts as house and human being in order to be able to revise and
enrich those concepts in the light of later experience. Kant is thus right
to say that the process “presupposes” concepts; he is not right if he is
suggesting that it presupposes them in their ¬nal form.
Third, this is not an empirical account. Kant refers to his account of
the formation of aesthetic standard ideas as a “psychological” one and
to the process itself as one that “does not reach consciousness” (V:234).
When we introduce the possibility that later experiences of a kind may
in various ways be incongruent with earlier experiences of it, the process
becomes normative. Even after moving to Arizona, I am free to maintain
that a house is a dwelling made of wood and to deny that hogans and
adobes are houses. True, such a move would be arbitrary; but avoiding
arbitrariness is a matter of norms, not of facts or unconscious processes.
So Kant has given us resources for an account of how concepts are
rationally revised in the light of new experience. This is hardly apparent
from his discussion of the ideal of beauty, which remains securely con-
¬ned within his architectonic, as an account merely of one implication of
the third moment of re¬‚ective judgment. It is also not evident from his
discussion of the formation of aesthetic standard ideas, which is limited
to such formation as an unconscious process triggered by perceived sim-
ilarities. He further obscures the broad importance of what he has said
by restricting his discussion to human beings “ a point that has to do with
the ideal of beauty “ before discussion of the aesthetic standard idea “ as if
that idea also had to do only with human beings rather than with beings

of conceptual normativity seems likely; but I am not sure he would be right in maintaining
that we do impute to others that they should have the same concepts we do, as opposed
to simply assuming that they do have them. Nor am I sure that aesthetic normal ideas do
not lead to such imputations. In any case, Kant™s account of the production of aesthetic
standard ideas has much richer resources for topics concerning conceptual change than
he himself explicitly recognizes, and that is my main point here.
Unearthing the Wonder 279

There is, ¬nally, a problem with the ideal of beauty itself. Why, unless
we are Kant, do we need to say that the sensible characteristics that man-
ifest freedom are the manifestations of some noumenon that can never
appear? Why not take it that they are speci¬c aspects of freedom itself:
that ˜freedom™ is just a general term for ways in which people appear or
behave? Then freedom is neither something in experience nor an idea
that I must form of something beyond it, but merely one of the ways in
which experiences can be seen to cohere, as when my hands, stance, and
eyes together take on a certain form “ or as when I speak my mind, attend
a religious service, and so on.
When we adopt the very un-Kantian premises that aesthetic standard
ideas can be expressed as concepts and that moral ideas need not be
distinguished from their effects, that is, can be can be merely ways in
which experiences cohere, we can broaden Kant™s account of aesthetic
standard ideas into a more general account of conceptual revision, which
in turn can also offer a basis for an account of the origin of such moral
concepts as that of freedom.
Moreover, this last un-Kantian move solves “ or dodges “ one of the
major problems in Kantianism. For the view that we are free in this sense in
no way contradicts the idea that we are determined. Freedom on this view
may just be one highly complex way of being determined. Kant™s argu-
ment, in the Antinomies of Pure Reason (III:473“52), that “all events
have causes” and “we are free” together express a contradiction requir-
ing the postulation of a noumenal realm to resolve it, would thus be

5. words in situations: ˜common sense™
While the topic of aesthetic standard ideas has, as Makkreel notes, been
largely overlooked in literature on Kant,20 that of common sense has been
central to shelves of it. Fortunately, my purposes here do not require
discussion of its several mysteries. Basically, there is a special kind of

20 Makkreel (1990), 114. Zammito furnishes an instance of this: “The idea of an aesthetic
normal idea, while interesting, only offers a different language to formulate what Kant
had explicated more clearly in relating the judgment of taste to the harmony of the
faculties. It does not at all advance our understanding of how the judgment of taste may
be extended to more complex objects . . . and therefore does not advance our under-
standing of pulchritudo adhaerens as an aesthetic matter” (Zammito 1992, 128“9). Allison
follows Zammito: §17 “does not add anything of decisive signi¬cance” to Kant™s theory
of taste (Allison 2001, 143).
John McCumber

universality to a judgment of taste, a “reduced” kind of universality
in which I impute to everyone else agreement with my own judgments
(V:237). Some of my judgments are not universal at all: I do not impute
to everyone my taste for Rocky Road ice cream. Other judgments have
“apodeictic” universality that can be proved: I do not have to ask people
whether they assent to the Pythagorean theorem for Euclidean space, for
example, because proofs for it exist with respect to such space. If others
reject it, they are delusional, and I know this without asking them “ it
follows from the fact that the theorem is a mathematical truth. But if I
want to ¬nd out whether others agree with a given a judgment of taste, I
have to go and ask them. And I know perfectly well that some of them will
disagree. So what I tell myself is that if they had seen the object as I have seen it,
they would and should agree that it is beautiful. This is the presupposition
of ˜common sense™.
This presupposition can be applied to our use of concepts. The process
of conceptual revision I described earlier derives concepts from idealized
images, which themselves are formed from experiencing things. Since any
thing has a variety of properties, concepts formed this way are formed
in networks: My aesthetic standard idea of human being includes not
just one particular height, but features such as color and weight. This
means that when a situation is of any complexity at all, there are usually
a variety of ways to describe it ( just as we can describe a human being
in terms of her coloring, height, etc.). Some of those ways, but rarely
all of them, may “click” for me on a given occasion “ this is often called
the ˜aha™ experience. And ˜aha™ experiences are often communal. When
Nixon was president, the whole country “ except for a few diehards “ had,
at somewhat different times to be sure, the experience of realizing that
the word ˜crook™ actually applied to him (for many people this experience
came when Nixon said publicly, “I am not a crook”).
How did people “verify” that Nixon was a crook? Settling on this par-
ticular description of him required, after all, a lot of rational activity, not
to mention soulsearching. What validated it? Not just the facts in the
case, which Nixon could explain away, but also not merely the subjec-
tive certainties of a number of individuals. The “click” was validated by
soul-searching and rational evaluation on the part of individuals, to be
sure; but another important part of it was the fact that everyone else was
reaching the same conclusion at around the same time. The ¬nal click
was thus “intuitive,” a feeling, but it was partly validated by consensus:
by the knowledge that many others were agreeing with it, knowledge
that came not by talking with them, but by presupposing their common
Unearthing the Wonder 281

Such common sense agreement, as Kant argues, does not yield truth:
It yields only, we may say, a socially acceptable way of thinking about
something. Such an agreed-upon click is best described, perhaps, as a
decision, not on the truth of one description as opposed to the falsity of
the rest, but on which description is the best available. The presupposi-
tion of common sense tells us that such a decision can be made together
by an entire community. It then has a sort of performative force: When
the entire United States decided that Richard Nixon was a crook, pro-
nounced him a crook, he became a crook “ not in the sense that he was
known to have committed criminal acts (he was never tried for any, and
so must be presumed innocent), but in the weaker sense that ˜crook™ “
swindler, untrustworthy “ became, by common agreement, the best avail-
able description of him.

6. enlarged thought
We can connect the two previous discussions by saying that concept for-
mation, as an empirical process, leaves us with a variety of ways to describe
almost any situation. One criterion for choosing among the various pos-
sible descriptions “ a “natural” one “ would be that many others in our
community are also choosing it. More “philosophically,” we can sort out
just what each description commits us to, intellectually and practically.
The “communal intuitive click” of common sense need not, however,
be the only way in which we come to agreement about the best way to
describe a situation. In §40, Kant talks about a procedure for thinking,
which he calls “enlarged thought”. In enlarged thought, we take the views
of others into account in formulating our own. This does not give us
truth “ any more than communal accord can give us truth. What it does
do, Kant says, is correct for “the limitations which happen to attach to
our own judging” (V:294).
We have, according to Kant, a recurrent tendency to mistake condi-
tions that hold for our own thinking for conditions imposed by reality
itself “ indeed, his whole philosophy can be read as a battle against that
tendency. Sometimes what we mistake for objective truths are merely
contingencies of our own way of thinking that come from our limited
experience. Taking into account the views of others via enlarged thought
thus helps us to “escape the illusion that arises from the ease of mistak-
ing subjective and private conditions for objective ones, an illusion that
would have a prejudicial effect on the judgment” (V:293).
The way to do that is this: If we have a common sense, that means
we have a shared approach to judging things; we can see things in the
John McCumber

same way and come to agreement about them. Comparing my views with
yours develops this shared ability. It helps both of us make clear that
we have really perceived the thing or situation correctly and described
or understood it adequately. The “communal click” does not have to be
intuitive, then; it can be produced via dialogue with others. Such dialogue,
for Kant, need not be actual. I can imagine what others think and take
their views into account in formulating my own (cf. V:295). Common
sense, as an a priori power of the mind, enables us to imagine all the
possible views of others.
The “post-Kantian” approach that is shaping up will not leave enlarged
thought to the imagination, for without some sort of transcendental
grounding the scope of my imaginative power is in doubt. There are
doubtless views out there, on many subjects, that I cannot even imag-
ine.21 Hence this approach will undertake a comprehensive inventory
of all the views on a given subject that have actually been held and will
attempt to measure them, not so much against the facts “ when those are
available, that is the job of those who hold the views in question “ but
against each other, testing them for such characteristics mentioned by
Kant here as autonomy and consistency. (Do the views really stem from
rational considerations? Or from social or economic interests?)
As a development of common sense, enlarged thought can take us out
of our community “ the community of people who have had experiences
like ours and who have therefore ended up with concepts like ours. We
can engage in dialogue with people from other cultures and with texts
from ancient times.

7. the cultivation of reason
Such common sense agreement, however, even when attained via
enlarged thought, would have to be rati¬ed by the individual. In §32,
Kant uses the example of a young poet who has written a poem, which
everyone else tells her is simply awful. Until she sees that for herself, she
cannot agree. But she cannot rely exclusively on her own judgment. She
needs the corrective judgment of others in order to progress as a poet.

21 If we accept Makkreel™s hermeneutical account as Kant™s, the enlargement of thought
applies both to my thought and to that of the person I am trying to understand: “we
project a possible intermediate position held neither by the self nor by the other”
(Makkreel 1990, 160). Though imagination clearly has a role in such dialogue, it can
hardly take it over entirely, as Kant suggests; in order to come up with a position inter-
mediate between Plato™s and my own, I must at least be exposed to Plato™s.
Unearthing the Wonder 283

In this connection, Kant here in §32 makes an important point:
The same holds for all uses, no matter how free, of our powers, including even
Reason. . . . If each subject always had to start from nothing but the crude predis-
position given him by nature, [many of] his attempts would fail, if other people
before him had not failed in theirs; they did not make those attempts in order to
turn their successors into mere imitators [i.e., to deprive them of their autonomy],
but so that, by their procedure, they might put others on a track whereby they
could search for the principles within themselves and so adopt their own and
often better course. (V:283)

We should not imitate the past; but we are always following it.
Three points lie behind this. The ¬rst is the familiar Kantian point
that our faculties have principles: There are right and wrong ways to use
them. The second is that we do not know from birth what those principles
are: We are born with our faculties, but not knowing how to use them.
In order to learn how to use them, we must rely on the trial and error of
previous generations “ on history. Hence the third point: Our faculties
have histories.22
Kant™s view of enlightenment inserts his own work into a history of
the human faculties. The propositions of the Critical Philosophy are
not empirically true descriptions of how the mind actually functions. All
around Kant, people “ even exceptionally intelligent ones “ are misusing
their faculties. They are trying, for example, to deduce a priori truths
from sensibility rather than the understanding, as Locke tried; or trying
to use reason to acquire truths about the world, as Leibniz (and many
other philosophers) tried; or mistaking the “technical practical” for the
truly moral (as §I of the Critique of the Power of Judgment notes). Kant™s
critical procedures are designed to map out, for the ¬rst time, the proper
use of the faculties: His philosophy is normative through and through.23
The transcendental norms of the faculties “ their basic “settings” “
do not themselves change with time. One example of this is the logical
principle of the faculty of Reason. Insofar as it merely concerns correct
inference (and does not relate us directly to objects of any sort), Reason

22 This learning how to use our faculties goes beyond the cultivation of moral feeling and
of taste; it is what Salim Kemal calls “progressive culture” and includes teaching us how
to set purposes morally, that is, how to treat others as ends and not as means (Kemal
1997, 120). Kant™s quote here suggests that it goes beyond even that; I would put it that
for Kant, one way we can learn what an end-in-itself is by learning how to treat people as
if they were such. My earlier “post-Kantian” suggestion that moral ideas do not need to
be distinguished from their effects would enable going even further: What it is to be an
end in oneself is being treated as such by other people and oneself.
23 Cf. Deleuze (1990), 26“7.
John McCumber

seeks to reduce the many rules, or concepts, of the Understanding to
the fewest possible higher ones. Its “principle,” then, is “manifoldness of


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