Wassily Kandinski, Circles in a Circle, 1923

Art and Beauty: Kant’s Critique of Judgement

Instructor: Morgan Meis

Why do we like to go to museums or spend time in nature? Why do we think art is important? What is it, exactly, that art does? What role does it play in our lives? Why do we find it nearly impossible not to be moved by the colors of the setting sun? What does it say about us as human beings that we see beauty in nature and art? Or do we?

The foundation for thinking about aesthetics in the modern age in the West is 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment. Understanding Kant is therefore a crucial stepping-stone to understanding the debate about art and beauty right up to this very moment. Kant argued, controversially, that judgments of taste must be both subjective (and therefore impossible to prove) and universal (valid for everyone). These claims seem mutually contradictory on the face of it. What can Kant have meant by these claims and why do they matter for us?

In this course, we’ll work through sections of the Critique of Judgment, trying to understand Kant’s reasoning and applying it to current debates about art, its purpose, meaning, and role in contemporary society. We’ll read and analyze what Kant had to say about the sublime and talk about how this important concept has influenced art and literature from Kant’s time to our own.  Why did Kant say that beauty can only be perceived, paradoxically, only with “disinterest? And how has this idea been influential over time? Together, we will explore how the basic arguments of the third Critique are constructed and why they remain intellectually exciting to this day — whether we agree with them or not.    

Course Schedule

Wednesday, 6:30-9:30pm
July 05 — July 26, 2017
4 weeks


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