The Visible, the Sublime and the Sensus Communis: Kant’s Theory of Perception [1st ed.] 9783030514198, 9783030514204

This book argues that Kant develops a theory of perception in the Critique of Judgment from whichone can redefine his en

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The Visible, the Sublime and the Sensus Communis: Kant’s Theory of Perception [1st ed.]
 9783030514198, 9783030514204

Table of contents :
Front Matter ....Pages i-xxvii
Art: The Visible (Tamar Japaridze)....Pages 1-16
Cecity as a Philosophical Insight (Tamar Japaridze)....Pages 17-25
Dennis Diderot and the Secrete Geometry of the Living: Saunderson’s Sublime Vision (Tamar Japaridze)....Pages 27-35
Diderot: An Art Critic–Between Honesty and Fidelity (Tamar Japaridze)....Pages 37-43
Back Matter ....Pages 45-68

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Tamar Japaridze

The Visible, the Sublime and the Sensus Communis Kant’s Theory of Perception 123

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Tamar Japaridze

The Visible, the Sublime and the Sensus Communis Kant’s Theory of Perception


Tamar Japaridze Department of Arts and Sciences Ilia State University Tbilisi, Georgia

ISSN 2211-4548 ISSN 2211-4556 (electronic) SpringerBriefs in Philosophy ISBN 978-3-030-51419-8 ISBN 978-3-030-51420-4 (eBook) © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. This Springer imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland


Despite its uneasy reputation Kant’s Critique of Judgment is considered to be one of the most important systematic studies of the theory of art and beauty and the basis of most modern aesthetics. Within Kant’s entire critical project, however, the critique rather concerns more directly the function of philosophical system as such. This concurrence of art and knowledge is as old as Plato and is embodied in his famous theory of mimesis. It has been generally agreed that throughout the history of philosophy this theory has had the major influence on the way we define what constitutes truth and its manifestation, how we distinguish fact from fiction, how our perceptual capacity of image-building is understood and, in general, the manner in which the concept of representation itself is characterized (Heidegger, Gadamer, etc.). Kant puts forward a theory of perception that challenges this dominant Platonic framework. His aesthetic of the sublime and the sensus communis can be read as a critique of this framework of Platonism within the representation theory (and inverse optical problem that follows from it) of the eighteenth-century epistemology. The book proposes that Kant’s theory itself harks back to the aesthetics of antiquity and the Renaissance that developed in the context of naturalism in pictorial art. It also is the crux of his transcendental aesthetic. These issues are examined within the general context of the findings such as Foucault’s that concern epistemological functions of representation and, particularly, concerns the claim that the classical episteme is defined by a particular system of representation, which is the bedrock of thought of the age. The work also looks at the evolution of these questions within the pictorial art of the period. The book is addressed mainly to the readers interested in Kant’s aesthetics, in the historical context of the Critique of Judgment, its influence on the course of the continental philosophy (Heidegger, Arendt, Adorno as examples) and, more generally, in issues regarding representation in philosophy with relation to art. The structure of the work is as follows: in the introduction I discuss the significance of aesthetics and art within the Kantian system. My argument is that it would be best to read the plan of the Third Critique in reverse as the theory that finds its starting point in art, for the methodology here seems to be in the process of




being constituted, the philosophy not yet written, a philosophy in statu nascendi, here displayed in its “raw”, “primal (Ur)” state. For that reason, it would be more convincing to argue, that it is art that poses as a model of this theory. This methodological shift in Kant was of major significance for the subsequent philosophy. Chapter 1 is a discussion of the key notions of the third critique, sensus communis and the sublime, as the expressions of the visible as such. The discussion of the Molyneux problem in Chap. 2 highlights that in the 18th century epistemology inverse optics was the only accepted view in regard to the perception of space, the view that survives in most modern interpretations of Kant as well. Diderot’s critique of this view is also discussed. Further, it is shown how the practical considerations of naturalism led to the theoretical grounding of the notion of space within the earlier aesthetic theories of judgments and sensus communis. It is argued that, Kant revives this earlier aesthetic tradition in the discussion of the “direct vision” of the sublime. In my view, discussed here as well, Heidegger’s interpretation of Kant brings out this aspect of Kant’s aestheticism. My argument is that, though Heidegger’s relationship to Kant remains complex, his criticism of the 19th century psychologism can be understood in this context. I also discuss the ideas of perspective and space by Panofsky, Foucault, Damisch and Gibson in order to show how the notions of the visual and space discussed here owe to the particular discoveries within pictorial art. Finally, in the concluding chapter, I return to the subject of the history of reception of this work. The Critique of Judgment had the most significant impact on the course of continental philosophical tradition. The extend of the influence of Kant’s aestheticism on the subsequent developments of the continental philosophy, especially on Hegel, Heidegger, Arendt, Adorno, Derrida is also discussed. Tbilisi, Georgia

Tamar Japaridze


This has been an unusually protracted project. Fortunately, over the years and at almost all stages, there were many people who have liberally given of their time and learning to help bring the work to completion. I would like to acknowledge especially the following individuals for their kind advice, help and generosity. I have particularly benefited from conversations on matters Kantian and non-Kantian with Prof. Giorgio Buccellati. In this sense, I am doubly in the debt, as I think it was his extraordinarily erudite UCLA lectures in archeology, history and linguistics infused with wide-ranging philosophical ideas, and especially his contagious enthusiasm for Kant, that had originally sharpened my own interest in these matters as an undergraduate. I would like to thank Prof. Theo Kobusch and his family in Bochum for extended discussions and intellectual stimulation, for kindness and hospitality that I can never hope to repay sufficiently. Also, during the Volkswagen Stiftung years and on my visit to Bochum, Prof. Engelbert Plassman shared with me his vast knowledge of the history of European book publishing which was very useful. I must thank Annmarrie Plassman for her unexpected help too—I feel very grateful for her being able to take the time to accompany me on a wintry trip to Halberstadt through Harz, the Saxony Anhalt, the atmosphere of which has marked the present inquiry in a way that perhaps no book could. I am grateful for some long discussions with Rev. Giancarlo De Nicolò in Rome who has so generously shared his insight and extraordinary learning of early Christian mural painting in Rome. I would also like to thank Prof. Iwa Mindadze in Tiblisi for his help in locating some long lost quotes and sharing his knowledge of the German literary criticism. At Springer Nature thanks are due to Christopher Coughlin, the Senior Editor (Philosophy, Religious Studies, Linguistics) in New York and to Cristina dos Santos and Anita Rachmat in Dordrecht for her help at the initial stages of the project, to project coordinators Ambrose Berkumans and Vishnu Muthuswamy, and to the rest of the team. It is a pleasure to acknowledge the support given me by my family and friends. In Toronto I would like to thank Geoffrey Carr-Harris for his good advice and Ann Perez for ongoing encouragement while writing this book. My daughters, my vii



excellent ten o’clock scholars, deserve my special thanks for their immense patience, for their readiness to help with books from their school library and with the nuances of French. Their interest in learning about the philosophes, learning Braille, so enthusiastically participating in “solidarity runs” and other activities for the benefit of blind and visually impaired school children helped anchor us all at times when this work got so painfully in the way. I am very proud of them and immensely grateful for this support.

Introduction: The Project of the Third Critique

How could it have happened that modern languages especially have come to designate the power of aesthetic judgment by a term (gustus, sapor) that merely refers to a certain organ? It is even more curious that sapor, skill in testing by sense whether I myself enjoy an object…was raised to the name of wisdom itself (sapientia), presumably because we need not reflect and experiment on unconditionally necessary end, but take it into soul immediately, as if tasting something wholesome.

—Immanuel Kant, Anthropology from Pragmatic Point of View In the Critique of Judgment Kant discusses the nature of taste or judgments of sense and exonerates the role of the faculties that account for such judgments. By the time Kant was writing, these inner senses, (the sensus communis being one of them), seem to have lost their original significance. In addressing the nature of the reflective or aesthetic judgment (vs. determinate judgments) Kant develops the notion of the sensus communis that harks back to the connotation that links the judgments with the inner senses and by extension, with optics. In the discussion of the sublime, when he asks us to “see” the way poets do—or “directly”— possibly, he tries to construct a theory of perception via this aesthetic experience in the context of the language and findings that are unique to art and pertains to optics. More specifically, it can be understood to hark back to the notion of the sensus communis, as this notion linked with optics became one of the important concepts of the Renaissance. It described a visual experience defined by a point of view (the subjective standpoint). With naturalism art had emerged as a model of vision and of perception because of this formal element in the convention of modeling. The interest of the Renaissance theorists in these aesthetic judgments lay in that they were thought to be able to account for the fact that though the imitation produced in art is determined by the physical geometry of sight, light and shading, geometry does not fully explain the precision with which the optical experience is reproduced. Thus, for them, perspective entailed more than simply a precise location of the viewer.



Introduction: The Project of the Third Critique

Taste (Italian Gusto), this irrevocably subjective of all the five senses, seems to have been connected for the first time with beauty and with right judgments or so-called immediate judgments in Renaissance Italy (explored by Filarete, and later by Rinuccini). The faculties that accounted for these judgments, within the Aristotelian tradition, were called inner senses and were linked with imagination, fantasy, memory, etc. The judgments that they performed were acts of distinction, comparison, association and combination. The Renaissance drew upon them as a term to describe an application of intuitive judgments, which were instinctive estimations or inferences in case of optical experiences. I think Kant’s discussion of the sublime can be read as an implicit reference to this context within which judgments were discussed. These were considerable claims for his entire system and for philosophy in general. The significance of highlighting this aspect of Kant’s work lies in placing Kant’s aesthetics within the continuous tradition of aesthetic theory and showing Kant’s debt to it. By unraveling the layers of meaning of this key concept one can see the importance of the aesthetic in the Kantian system—allegedly the system’s most contentious feature—more clearly. Kant recalibrates his whole philosophy toward aesthetics. In the concluding chapter, I discuss the aspects of this work that played the decisive role in initiating the process of the so-called aesthetic turn in the continental tradition and their effect on the key figures of modern philosophy, such as, Heidegger, Arendt and Adorno. *** “One cannot pass judgment on Kant without, sentence after sentence, betraying what type of a world one carries in one’s head”, wrote Hermann Cohen in his Kant’s Theory of Experience.1 This observation is particularly true of the aesthetic doctrine of the Critique of Judgment. It was deemed so contentious that, it has been claimed, there must be an overlap “between the history of the interpretation of this work on the Continent and the history of philosophy itself”.2 Even if one avails oneself of this ample warning about the pervasive perils of approaching the Third Critique by cataloging all the risks and false starts that has ever surrounded it, the intractability of its premise and the subject matter will prevail. If it is generally agreed that Kant’s Critique of Judgment is the most important systematic study of the theory of art and beauty and the basis of most modern aesthetics, from the point of view of Kant’s entire project, it rather more directly pertains to the critical system itself: it must accomplish the double task of imparting a cohesive underlying principle and thus “complete” Kant’s philosophical undertaking. Within this scheme, the aesthetic is encumbered with the paradox of the entire critical enterprise, as its unforgiving attribute, expressed in simultaneous affirmation and exclusion.


Hermann Cohen, Kants Theorie der Erfahrung, (Berlin, 1871), V. Jacques Taminiaux, Poetics, Speculation, and Judgment, translated by Michael Gendre, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993), 21.


Introduction: The Project of the Third Critique


In broad terms, it can be argued that in the philosophical tradition this concurrence goes as far back as Plato. Both Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer have written extensively about how it is that philosophical Platonism is beholden to art, albeit negatively. The disparity that exists between the two serves to reveal the truth. To illuminate what constitutes it, knowledge is juxtaposed to art as this is embodied in the famous theory of mimesis. Closer at hand, Kant will combat this philosophical Platonism implicit in the eighteenth-century philosophy by developing a theory of perception. In the Critique of Judgment, within the discussion of the beautiful and the sublime, the role of intuition is examined anew. It is a renewed assessment of the aesthetic of space and time in the transcendental philosophy. It is also an investigation of the rationality of vision. Kant recuperates perception and pins the truth-value on the senses—and I will argue, this he does based on a certain tradition that gave the intuitions and the senses a complex, independent and heterogeneous set of functions, as well as, a certain superiority. This is a faculty or a set of faculties that comprises imagination, mimesis, intuition, inner senses, etc. These concepts were widely used by artists in formulating the theory of perception (namely, the theory of vision) with the truth of its own within the practice of painting. One of the surprisingly uncontested claims about the Critique of Judgment is that it had an enormous influence on the art of the period. This is taken as an undisputed fact. In his Kants Begründung der Aesthetik Herman Cohen writes that “the classics of our literature and poetry are linked to Kant’s aesthetics”.3 Kant is even credited with “constructing the concept of Goethe’s poetry” (Windelband).4 If this might seem a rather hyperbolic assessment, Goethe’s own opinions leave no doubts about his unbounded enthusiasm for Kant’s work. He was especially beholden to the Critique of Judgment. Goethe likened the Kantian system to a living organism, Urpflanz or a “primordial plant”, “analogous to the spirit itself that awakens a spasmodic rhythm of alternating expansion and contraction, the systole and diastole”, possessing an animating pulse “as if it were spirit’s second breath”.5 He wrote about the affinity between Kantian philosophy and his own thought and about the joy this discovery brought him. He said that Kant’s Third Critique helped him bring together his own, “most diverse thoughts”, and oddly enough, it was the detailed arrangement of the Third Critique, its technicality, which is in the philosophical commentaries the most disputed element of the work, that made a deep impression

“[M]it Kants Aesthetik sind die Classiker unsere Litteratur und Dichtung verbunden”, Hermann Cohen, Kants Begründung der Aesthetik, (Berlin, 1889), 334. 4 Wilhelm Windelband, Die Geschichte der neueren Philosophie, (Leipzig: 1904), vol. 2, 173. 5 “Die Systole und Diastole des menschliches Geistes war mir, wir eines Zweites Atemhohen niemals getrennt, immer pulsierend.” Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Scriften zur Wissenschaftslehre Einwirkung der neuen Philosophie, Band, 16, Heraugegeben von Erns Beutler, (Zuerich: Artemis Verlag), 874. See also on the Critique of Judgment, Kampagne in Frankreich 1792, Band, 12. Trier den 25 Oktober, 344. 3


Introduction: The Project of the Third Critique

on the poet. He regaled in “that poetic art and comparative natural knowledge are so closely related”,6 and he viewed the time he dedicated to reading Kant to have been the happiest of his life. Goethe does not elaborate further on the nature of the affinity between their mutual pursuits, on this poetica in sensu lato7 in Kant’s sense, as to him the connection seemed to be self-evident in this “new artistic epoch”. This unreserved admiration of one dilettante for another is striking indeed. Goethe, as a poet and a dilettante scientist, saw the resolution of his own intellectual strife in the discovery and confirmation of his relationship to Kant. The use of this epithet in reference to Kant is baffling, but it also underscores just how incomplete our own understanding of the spirit of the epoch might be.8 Even in the light of the view that it was in the eighteenth century that aesthetics begins to assume “original and substantial significance”9 in German philosophical undertakings, Goethe’s remains a singularly emotional account of the effects of this work and of his appreciation of its aestheticism. Moreover, it is a poignant illustration of what Ernst Cassirer found so paradoxical—the stamp that this philosophical inquiry left on the intellectual climate of the entire epoch—that, upon simply completing the effort of outlining a scholastic framework of his theory and by working it out in detail in the Critique of Judgment, what was only a consequence of the elaboration of the transcendental schematism grew into the expression of the deepest intellectual and cultural problems of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. To add, it seems to be even more paradoxical that not before long Hegel was ready to declare the “time of art” (and also of “Kant”) to be over. In his famous words “art has ceased to be the highest need of the spirit”. With Friedrich Schiller, and Hegel notes that too, as Romanticism breaks through, the enthusiasm expressed in Classicism toward Kant begins to wane. Thus, though exulted beyond measure by Goethe, the fervor gradually gave way to disenchantment and then to downright aversion with Hegel, as we shall see in the Conclusion, where Hegel’s attitude toward this work will be discussed in more detail. It can also be said, that in philosophy there seems to be no equivalent to the semantic strait-jackets that describe dominant trends in art; philosophy’s general preference for the immutable ideas is painted in the single shade of gray. Other than to speculate, it would be hard to single out the reason for this abrupt turn of the tide that seems to ensure from the

“Es ist ein grenzenloses Verdienst unsres Kant um die Welt, und ich darf auch sagen: um mich, dasser in seiner “Kritik der Urteilskraft” Kunst und Naturnebeneinanderstellt und beiden das Rechtzugesteht, ausgrossen Principien zwecklos zuhandeln.” Letter to Zelter from 29 January 1830, Briefwechsel: Goethe Zelter, Auswahl, Vorwort und Kommentar von Werner Pfister, (Zürich und München: Artemis Verlag, 1987), 318. 7 Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, translated by W. Pluhar, (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987), 113. 8 Manfried Kuhn mentions that some of his colleagues referred to Kant as a dilettante. Manfried Kuhn, Kant: a Biography, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 211. 9 Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of the Enlightenment, translated by C. A. Koelln and James P. Pettegrove, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955), 275. 6

Introduction: The Project of the Third Critique


quest for the absolute, as it was for Hegel or for Kant, for that matter, as well as, for the subsequent philosophy. Hegel mocked the impotence of this critique. He regarded it as a failed project and faulted Kant’s entire philosophical undertaking as “contrary to aesthetic sense”. He appraised Kant’s categories as “ugly” and “repulsive”. He considered himself the direct heir of this project, failed by Kant himself. Putting Kant through the dialectical grind, so to say, he himself came out the winner. Hegel’s attitude is important in its own right, because Hegel’s conviction that he had to overcome both Kant’s philosophy, as well as, the “need for art and aesthetics” highlights the problematic aspect of aesthetics within German Idealism. These Post-Kantian themes cannot be pursued in the present work but there are two important aspects with respect to the Third Critique that needs to be underlined. First, it is perhaps due to Hegel that the Third Critique has come down to us with the gravity of a failed project, but crucially also, that in the modern period, the interest in this work was prompted exactly by the aspect that most strongly resisted the Hegelian dialectic (Kant ne s’hégélianise pas, as Alexandre Kojève puts aptly), and by the fact that it asserted the role of aesthetics in much less unequivocal terms. However, to return to the eighteenth century and to the above idea that the significance of the relationship between art and philosophy was the defining mark of the period, and to Kant’s role, it would be proper to question this assessment as one obviously not arguing from certain homology, but instead, one that is based on the unhesitant acceptance of the superiority arrogated to philosophy in relation to art. It seems to betray the unassailable prejudice partial to the view that confers power to theory and to the authority of the philosophical. To challenge this immutable view, however, it would be far from sufficient to merely reverse the terms of this relationship, and presume the supremacy of art. One would need to consider carefully the terms of this relationship and what they might amount to still within this position of inequality—the terms such as the notion of exemplarity art affords, its heuristic significance and its illustrative value. It has been asked before, most famous example of this inquiry being Foucault’s examination of the classical episteme, whether art, as a theory or practice, plays a role in the genesis of knowledge. As a legitimate exploration within its own means, one of the most important ways art (painting, in this case) can contribute to the understanding of the visual perception is in the sense of what it does as practice or a language; as such, it might amount to a theory, to a putative knowledge, which it makes available. In this context, as we will see, Kant posits aesthetic conditions prerequisite for truth, which might serve as a model for thought, because at issue is that which concerns representation. Therefore, it would be most relevant to examine this issue within the broad context of the discussions of the relationship of philosophy to visual art, especially as it directly relates to the particular period. To recall Michel Foucault’s famous analysis of Las Meninas in the Order of Things,10 without saying more about Foucault’s position as yet, we can place this inquiry within the tradition 10

Michel Foucault, The Order of Things, (New York: Random House, 1995), 3. Les Mots et les Choses, (Paris: 1966), 19.


Introduction: The Project of the Third Critique

further exemplified by Blaise Pascal that considers painting to provide an obvious paradigm of knowledge.11 Particularly, Pascal’s interest (as well as Foucault’s) was focused on the painterly perspective—a point of view—as the element of this model of knowledge. This “truthful spot” guarantees the truth in painting, the truthfulness of semblance (mimesis). Pascal seems to have been in thrall to this element of painting. He writes: Thus paintings, seen from too far away or from too close; and there is only one indivisible point that is the truthful spot: the others are too close, too distant, too high, too low. Perspective designates [this point] in the art of painting. But who designates it in truth and ethics?12

This interest in painting was prompted by the developments which coincided with the emergence of optical naturalism, and particularly, by the manner optical naturalism examined the semblance as such. In the manner exclusive to it, it was able to achieve expression by the means that were uniquely aesthetic in the sense that they were dependent on the judgments that were sensate. The experience of vision explored in painting was rooted in the examination of the visual experience which went back to the tradition that developed optics on the foundation of Aristotle’s theory of perception. This provided naturalism with deliberately theoretical framework of vision (for which the sensus communis was an important concept) on the basis of which painting was able to achieve, arguably for the first time in its history, a status of a theory that was aesthetic in a dual sense: as well as being an examination of the nature of sense judgments and perception, these judgments played a crucial role in solving the practical difficulties of representation.13 Kant will argue against excluding (or denigrating) aesthetics. His “aesthetic vision” is rooted in this earlier aesthetic tradition, in sharp contrast to the views of the period closer to him. As optics developed further, it became identified with the point-projection theory of vision (and inverse optics problem) that rejected sense judgments as having the legitimacy of theoretical arguments. Subsequently (by the eighteenth century), the earlier theory of optics seems to have survived in the context of art only. These topics will be the focus of the following chapters. It will be argued that Kant adhered to the notions of the earlier tradition and not the one that prevailed in philosophy. However, his contemporary art provided the necessary context within which this theory may have been elaborated. When Kant examines the direct vision of the artists it is this asks us to “see” “the way poets do” in the discussion of the sublime, he offers a theory of perception and evokes the earlier tradition of optics that, by the time Kant was writing, seems to have survived in the pictorial art only. Kant’s technical argument revolves around the notion of the sensus communis and goes back to its original sense that was used 11

Louis Marin, La Critique du discours. Sur la loguique de Port-Royal et les pensees de Pascal, Paris, 1975. Hubert Damisch, The Origin of Perspective, translated by John Goodman, (Boston: MIT Press, 1995), 52. 12 Blaise Pascal, Pensees, translated by A. J. Krailsheimer, (London, 1966), 381. 13 David Summers, The Judgment of Sense, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).

Introduction: The Project of the Third Critique


by the ancients based on Aristotle’s koine aesthesis. This was the notion that encompassed special and common sensible, defined measurable and sight, as well as intensive magnitudes and the scope of perception in general, and these form the background of Kant’s argument. He uses it to combat the representationalist view of the eighteenth-century epistemology and is the sustained demonstration of how to exonerate the role of the senses from the presumption of obsoleteness. Aesthetics must convey the idea of the adaptedness of the vision and world. The eighteenth-century perceptual theory seems to have done away with that element of optics of the Antiquity and the Renaissance that gave rise to the notion of the senso communo of the Renaissance. David Summers’ work traced the antecedents of the modern notion of taste, initially linked by Robert Klein to the Renaissance notion of guidizio, to the complex history of the idea of judgment. Klein noted that the judgment in the Renaissance belonged to a “domain intermediate between the mind and the senses” and the “instinctive estimations”.14 According to David Summers, these Renaissance notions were linked to the long tradition of speculation concerning sensate judgments and the artistic judgments in general as directly derived from Aristotle via the Middle Ages and the late antiquity. In the Renaissance, they came together to form the concept of the sensus communis—an important element of the theoretical vocabulary of the painters. These judgments were able to convey the aspect of the perceptual experience that, though led to the discovery of perspective, in itself was not strictly speaking perspectival. Based on the discriminating power of these judgments Kant recreates the theory of perception or the theory of “direct optics” (rather the one based on geometrical optics) within which the sensus communis plays an important conceptual role. By contrast, the philosophical context of the perceptual theory of the eighteenth century was dominated by point-projection theory and, consequent to it, by the inverse optics problem that the famous Molyneux debate bears out (as it will be discussed in Chap. 2).15 The idealization of projective geometry would be the case of prior knowledge. The issues raised in this debate are also crucial in understanding Kant’s approach. Diderot’s criticism of the eighteenth-century epistemology, via his discussion of the Molyneux debate, illuminates the problems of the inverse optics and, I believe, Kant might have been in agreement with him on the main point. The conclusion drawn from this reading of Kant has broader implications for philosophy. Along with the aesthetic theory, there is an implicit theme of Robert Klein, “Judgment and Taste in Cinquecento Art Theory”, in Form and Meaning: Essays on the Renaissance and Modern Art, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), 161–169. 15 An ardent critic of point-projection theory, James J. Gibson also sought to demonstrate to what extend the painters are aware that, as he says, “perspective doesn’t work.” Regardless whether one accepts his ecological theory his argument is an excellent illustration of what follows from the inverse optics problem. James J. Gibson, “The Information Available in Pictures”, (Leonardo, Vol. 4, 1971). This “complicated” view of perspective is the topic of Hubert Damisch work The Origin of Perspective. Both of them are at odds with Panofsky. Erwin Panofsky’s groundbreaking theory is to be found in his Perspective as Symbolic Form, translated by Christopher Wood, (Boston: MIT Press, 1991). 14


Introduction: The Project of the Third Critique

philosophical method expressed in this critique. Therefore, one of the important questions to ask is how this theory might be reflected in the philosophical method he elaborates. This issue will be discussed in the conclusion.16 The themes discussed in the Chapters are as follows: Chapter 1 is the exposition of the sensus communis and the sublime in the Critique of Judgment. It discusses “the double stigma” of mimesis embodied in the Platonic idea (Gadamer). My argument in the beginning chapters is that in the Critique of Judgment Kant places his exposition within this tradition of aesthetics and the theory of perception that grew out of the discussion of the sense judgments. I take his argument in the chapter on the sublime, though implicit, to be an argument against Platonism and namely against Platonic mimesis. “Platonism” of the eighteenth-century epistemology, which correlates with the untrustworthiness of sense as the genuinely eighteenth-century problematic, is now recast as the aesthetic question, as it is also in Plato. The ophthalmic metaphors are not lost on Kant. This is the argument that asks to perceive “the way poets do” as “merely in terms of what manifests itself to the eye” (“wie die Dichteres tun nachdem, was der Augenschein zeigt”) and the ensuing discussion of the “sublime calculus” that underlies the “sublime vision”, with which the discussion ends. I take it to be the criticism of the Platonic framework rehearsed by Kant to combat the view dominant in the eighteenth-century expressed as the famous veil of perception view which Kant seems to be approaching as a form of the philosophical Platonism essentially transformed and presented as an epistemological problem but still couched within a Platonic framework. The Molyneux debate bears this out (discussed in Chap. 2). The eighteenth-century dependence on Newton’s optics is one way of looking at what Kant might have found objectionable and “Platonic” in the theory of knowledge of the period. Kant will combat the eighteenth-century idea of the veil of perception, or so-called inverse optics, without even engaging directly in the debate. He might have considered it sufficient to contest the idea on the ground of the transcendental aesthetics. Nevertheless, the fact that he never engaged in the debate is considered to be a significant elision. Crucially, this might be considered so because in the nineteenth century the Molyneux debate once again became the center of the discussion now within nativist\empiricist debate (in the nineteenth-century psychology), which leaned on Kant’s authority and his transcendental aesthetic of space and time. The interpretation that it gave to the transcendental aesthetics, for Martin Heidegger, has marked the “misunderstanding” of Kant interpretation, which was plainly manifest in the over-emphasis of the Euclidean geometry and in disregard of the role that imagination and auto-affectivity played in the transcendental aesthetic of space and time. As well, taken as a representative example of the eighteenth-century views, Kant’s idea of the transcendental aesthetic of the First Critique exhibited the inverse The present discussion ends with the brief mention of Michel Foucault’s findings regarding the modern fixation with representation as such, as it relates to the constitutive subject, and with a mention of Lacan. More detailed exploration of this theme can be found in my earlier work on Kant, psychoanalysis and the sensus communis. The Kantian Subject: Sensus Communis, Mimesis, Work of Mourning. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000.


Introduction: The Project of the Third Critique


optical problem within which the knowledge assumptions were made and which recreated the world from these assumptions. The following chapters will closely examine the aspects of these interpretations for which the Molyneux debate indeed provides a suitable context. Further, relevant to it, is the fact that initially as formulated by Locke it concerned the nature of judgments, and in the eighteenth century the debate was epistemological in nature. Both Locke and Leibnitz found it necessary to raise the question of the relationship of art and painting as it bears upon the epistemic question. As the commentators might be right to be duly puzzled by Kant’s “silence” on the issue, I take the affinity between Dennis Diderot and Immanuel Kant’s views to provide a possible explanation. The recourse to Diderot’s critique in his Letters on the Blind might present a justifiable ground for approaching the argument in the Critique of Judgment from such standpoint, discussed in Chap. 3. It would be credible to think that the writings of Dennis Diderot might have been interesting to Kant as the doubled down criticism of Berkley, especially given the well-known accusations of Berkeleyanism leveled against him. Diderot offers the criticism of Voltaire’s, even if materialist, reformulation of Berkeley’s view on perception, heavily indebted to Newton, that Diderot thinks, fails. Dennis Diderot’s criticism of the Molyneux debate will try to demonstrate how skepticism and metaphysical false starts feed on this theory. His criticism of Berkeley and Condillac, which might have been sufficiently convincing for Kant, shows that it is true we never “leave our subjective selves” which leads to skepticism, but then we are inevitably forced to assume the finality and the deism and interpret beauty in this context. The imminent geometry of the living that he interposes between God and us destroys the false metaphysics. Dennis Diderot’s criticism on the basis of which he elaborates his own theory of the senses and launches a critique of metaphysical dogmatism might be one way of explaining why Kant didn’t find it necessary to further weigh in on the topic of Molyneux’s blind man. This I maintain as a conjecture only. The palpable arithmetic or the imminent geometry of the living is a teleology that belongs to the aesthetic proper. Diderot’s “aesthetic epistemology”, his “palpable arithmetic of the libertine” with which he explains the origin of geometry, invalidates the argument on the both side of the debate. This Epicurean geometry might have been something perhaps too outré for Kant, something that had made him blush (errörtet) as well (just like the Scotts, for another reason), but more to his taste. My argument regarding perception is indebted to two theories (also this indebtedness is the reason for my initial reference to Foucault’s well-known position on representation within the epistemological concerns starting with the modern period). One that the medieval optics was beholden to the Aristotelian notion of the koine aesthesis (or later what became known as sensus communis) and the inner senses,17 and, that this notion had been significant for the aesthetic tradition throughout the Renaissance. It had influenced the language of art of H. A. Wolfson, “The Internal Senses in Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew Philosophic Texts”. Harvard Theological Review, 1935. Studies in the History of Philosophy and Religion, I, 250, (ed. I. Twersky and G. H. Williams, (Cambridge: Massachusetts, 1973).



Introduction: The Project of the Third Critique

naturalism and had informed the discovery of perspective. The other argument is that by the eighteenth-century optics became dominated by the point-projection theory (with which perspective became associated) that largely rejected the findings of the earlier tradition. It also created the inverse optics problem. Both these theories concern themselves with representation building in radically different ways which will be discussed. In his seminal work on perspective Erwin Panofsky exposed the famous paradox that he thought was inherent in naturalism. For him, philosophy provided a theoretical framework within which to understand the phenomenon.18 If Panofsky offered one of the most insightful ideas regarding naturalist painting and the problems intrinsic to it, he resorted to philosophy in order to “solve” the paradox. The optical naturalism developed during the Renaissance seems to have evolved in response to the visual paradox, as rightly argued by Panofsky. Though, against this “philosophical solution”, in the argument that is crucial in “solving” this problem, Hubert Damisch argues that since its inception, naturalism was able to develop a highly theoretical approach in the sense that it represented a deliberate exposition of the possibilities of representation achieved through the demonstration of the duality that informed its execution, which he calls, a metaphorical (phenomenogical) and a geometrical modes of representations. Robert Klein’s and David Summers’s investigations into the origins of this aesthetic, also support the view that painting possessed the ways of solving this paradox within its own means, in as much as, it was able to fuse theory that informed it and the practice of painting. The practical exigencies of the naturalist painting necessitated the reexamination of perception and of the theories that supported it, as David Summers so convincingly demonstrates. Painterly perspective seems to have owed less to geometry of the point-projection theory than to the earlier tradition of optics.19 In the process emerged an aesthetic, as well as the theory of perception, that was unique to it. To explain the nature of representation, optical naturalism developed the language that evolved from this earlier aesthetic. Moreover, within painting the juxtaposition of two different perspectives that seem to work against each other within the complicated compositions was not mutually exclusive, in as much as, it was used as the means of constructing these compositions. Incidentally, Hubert Damisch argument against Michel Foucault is that his analysis, what otherwise is legitimately considered to be his most significant contribution toward understanding the issue, might have missed this aspect, the fact that it is deliberate—that it itself plays the role in the critic of the means of representation. Thus, he used painting as merely an illustrative example rather than a “theoretical thesis”, so to say. In other words, Foucault was not sufficiently clear about this element in Las Meninas. He did not see how theoretical painting itself has become, he just saw its role in illustrating 18

Erwin Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form. I will also rely on J. J. Gibson’s analysis of the perceptual model of the point-projection theory. As a critic of point-projection theory he resorts to the examples from art history to show to what extend the painters are aware of the theoretical presuppositions within painting and that, as he says, “painters know perspective does not work”. 19

Introduction: The Project of the Third Critique


certain theoretical aspects (albeit crucial) of representation and their significance for the theory of knowledge, and had left his analysis at that. I will return to this argument later in Chap. 4. My argument (which also should justify the foray into the pictorial art at the end of this work) makes the claim that naturalism provided a unique theoretical or “epistemic” standpoint. I take this argument further and claim that philosophy, starting with Kant (or perhaps, a good reason to think with Diderot) might have been thoroughly invested in this standpoint. To ignore such standpoint might have even been interpreted as an equivalent of the “Platonic” prejudice. Consistent with these ideas, discussed in Chap. 4 there is another aspect of Diderot’s thought that I turn to which I consider being relevant to the present discussion. As it is well known, he was an influential art critic. The extent of his influence on Goethe and Herder is well known. The sense in which his aestheticism discussed above permeates his art critical writings bears witness to that “theoretical” aspect of painting that seems to have reached its apex in his contemporary pictorial art. His analysis of the visual in the compositions of painting reveals the process of the resolution of the theoretical paradox naturalism tried to achieve, and what role it might have played for the modern theory of perception. Though to establish the connection between the Letters and his art critical writings is entirely beyond the scope of the present work (I am not aware whether this has ever been investigated in any detail) one can still argue, for the present purpose, these writings convey the same aesthetic ideas, which are expressed in his analysis of the technical possibilities presented in the compositional construction of the contemporary paintings. Together with Goethe’s writings, they bear witness to the theoretical maturation that the pictorial art had reached. The construction of painting evolved in such a way as to gradually overcome what was singled out as being artificial constructions in order to give way to the “genuine” experience of vision.20 The concern for the authenticity was voiced in the rhetoric of “the pure, primordial, genuine, and moral”. Ever-evolving technique allowed for compositions that were able to do away with what was considered an unnecessary artifice of geometric perspective. “…artists often regressed to archaic pictorial techniques that reflected a common repugnance for the illusionistic propensities of the oil medium” etc. If Kant was taken to have had an influenced on this propensity with his passing comments, he was by no means an instigator of this tendency, nor could the tendency have been considered a mere trend of no major consequence. Several centuries in the development, these techniques deepened the rift between the 20 Michael Fried, Absorption and Theatricality, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980), 5ff, and Robert Rosenblum, Transformations in Late Eighteenth Century Art, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989). Michael Fried examines the eighteenth–century paintings through Diderot’s writings. He demonstrates how the technical constructions of compositions of many of these paintings replicate Dennis Diderot’s views and how Diderot’s rhetoric is able to express the technical aspects of the painterly compositions of the period. The essays in Robert Rosenblum’s Transformations in Late Eighteenth Century Art, trace the path of painting to the “final undoing” of the illusionistic expression and regards this to be the main feature of the art of this period.


Introduction: The Project of the Third Critique

deliberately illusory point of view and the expressiveness of flatness, the light and the line. The ability of the eye to judge the relations of space reinstates the eye as a judge and a critic. Philosophical truth might be considered to be indebted to this truth in painting. Velasques’s Las Meninas example seems to be the case in point. Finally, the argument that Kant might have been aware of this aesthetic tradition of the sensus communis within the pictorial tradition and that he was taking into account the transformations in art that took place at a certain specific period of its development can be offered as a supposition only. One can only tangentially surmise Kant’s attunement to these developments. If optical naturalism began to explore perception in an unprecedented way it was in order to find practical solutions to express its findings. Along with it, it had also developed a theoretical language. Kant seems to have integrated this aesthetic into critical philosophy with its far-reaching consequences. By the time he was writing, naturalism is thought to have reached its logical outcome. Pictorial art of the time was able to become more self-reflective and critical about the theoretical presuppositions and tensions that gave rise to it, namely, the lingering acknowledgment of the geometrical space. *** Admittedly, it is not easy to argue for the status of anything that is sensuous and heteronomous in Kant.21 In fact, it might even seem contrary to the idea of rather more familiar Kant who valorizes the suppression of “the senses” and therefore is profoundly anti-aesthetic. Yet, aesthetic permeates the critical project. It is its overall purpose within this project that is compelling. Heidegger, Adorno and Arendt, can be counted among those who, although disrespected many aspects of the first two critiques, embraced the achievements of this aesthetic. At one of the most decisive periods in the developments of his own thought (more precisely, while he was developing the themes of Being and Time), Heidegger sought a “refuge” in Kant in order to find an “advocate” of his own thought in him as he puts it so compellingly. Crucially, the influence of this aesthetic was seen to bear upon the methodology of philosophy itself. Thus, it can be argued that as a mode of procedure it had initiated the “aesthetic turn” in the continental tradition. What follows is the discussion of some of those essential elements that have shaped this process. The double task The Critique of Judgment sets out to accomplish is to elucidate aesthetics as well as to formulate the shape of the complete critical system, its final outline and its starting point. At the center of this final part of the trilogy lies the investigation of the philosophical method that amounts to the concluding gesture of the exposition of the philosophical system that hinges upon aesthetics. It is also a self-reflection, as well as the examination of the act of reflection, (kritikon, krinein, is judgment, iudicare), and of auto-affection and thus also is the reexamination of its own foundation (and therefore, in this sense, as discussed at the end, Hegel’s assessment of it is very fare, though he sees this premise as a powerful tool only in 21

See my The Kantian Subject: Sensus Communis, Mimesis, Work of Mourning, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000). In this work, I offer more detailed reading of Kant that supports this argument.

Introduction: The Project of the Third Critique


his own hands capable of making whole what Kant left fissured). The judgment (iudicare), or Ur-teilen, as a distinction making faculty, the faculty that as we shall see, since Aristotle on, comprises intellect, imagination and the sensory powers all at once, is discerning (kritika). Krinein here is translated as judging.22 The title of the work sums up this double task. It is two simultaneous judgments meted out, uniting and dividing at once (Ur-teilen)—an act deeply rooted in the philosophical tradition, the Greek as well as Latin. It is the aesthetics of thought and an act of judgment. Heidegger, albeit his later reservations, has hinted on as much. As the investigation of the (primary) power of judgment, and of the sensus communis as the Grundkraft), the neither/nor logic of it follows a dialectic (the third term being imagination, the inner-sense) that produces a peculiar aesthetic excess. As a “system” or a gesture, it is excessively philosophical and, at the same time, in excess of philosophical, to use Derrida’s terms with which he characterizes his own mode of procedure.23 It stipulates dual and seemingly contradictory motions to maintain the heterogeneity of the comprising parts but, also, to bring them together. This distinction is central to the Kantian system: it produces the famous “conflict of the faculties of knowledge”. In each of the three Critiques, one of the faculties takes the lead and provides the principles of its own autonomy: understanding in the First, reason in the Second, judgment in the Third, thereby providing the basis for the theoretical differentiation of reason in three independent spheres: theory, morality and aesthetics. However, these faculties also form an architectonic unity. In the Third Critique, the faculty of judgment is to function as a so-called Verband, as binding, as a “bandage”. Thus, the faculty of judgment has a rather special status within critical philosophy. The “least rich faculty in the a priori grounds of determination” it, nevertheless, supplies the most necessary element to the system. The exposition of this faculty is a mere propaedeutic, not quite a doctrine. As a leading faculty, (not as a merely auxiliary as a determinate judgment of the First Critique is where judgment is subordinated to understanding), reflective judgment functions without concepts. In its autonomy critical reflection must be aesthetic (i.e., purely reflective). This is of an important consequence for critical philosophy. By positing reflective judgment in the center of the critique and making it purely aesthetic, Kant assumes a close link between (if not equates) philosophical and aesthetic critiques. Thus, the judgment that judges without rules becomes a paradigm of critique itself. My argument is that it would be best to read the plan of the Third Critique in reverse as the theory that finds its starting point in art, for the methodology here seems to be in the process of being constituted, the philosophy not yet written, a philosophy “just” beginning, in statu nascendi, here displayed in its “raw”, “primal (Ur)” state. For that reason, it would be more convincing to argue, that it is art that

22 Anselm Oulze, Animal Rationality: Later, Medieval Theories 1250–1350, (Leiden: Brill, 2018), 103. 23 Jacques Derrida, and Maurizio Ferraris, A Taste for the Secret, translated and edited by Giacomo Donis and David Webb, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2001), 47.


Introduction: The Project of the Third Critique

poses as a model of this theory. This methodological shift in Kant was of major significance for the subsequent philosophy. In the concluding chapter, I return to the subject of the history of reception of this work. As Jacques Taminiaux’s above quote implies, the Critique of Judgment had the most significant impact on the course of continental philosophical tradition. However, this influence was neither equivocal nor subtle and this history of the reception tells a compelling story of the prevailing views. Hegel had an important role to play in denigrating the work. Though he gave it a short shrift, his comments betray the sense that he found it deeply troubling and overall threatening to his project. It could be argued that it was in reaction to this extreme position that the aestheticism of Kant’s method had such an appeal. The philosophers I discuss at the end are united in the belief that the cause of the impasse philosophy finds itself is its anti-aestheticism and that critical philosophy might be able to offer a way out of this impasse. It is a hopeful note, though muted. One particular aspect of this aesthetic, its anti-Platonism, that allows the articulation of the telos of the singular and the affective, is compelling. Expressed in the idea of disinterestedness, this teleology as the affective mode of being, is not confined to merely aesthetics proper for Martin Heidegger and explains why the problem might be thought to be tied to so-called Platonism. This is his argument in Nietzsche. His reading of the role of imagination in the First Critique will be discussed at the end, in the concluding Chapter. Hannah Arendt’s interest in the faculty of judgment, also discussed at the end, is centered on this teleology of the singular and how it redefines the terms of the practical as such and of the philosophical reflection itself.24 With Theodor W. Adorno, in the hope that this aesthetic might hold the answer, the question is raised whether it is at all within the means of philosophy to probe into the affective and the singular. The reason for the concluding discussion is to acknowledge my rather obvious debt to the aesthetic readings of Kant. Though, to use Martin Heidegger’s phrase, I seek “advocacy” in these readings, I also need to stress how these interpretations of 24 Krinein or iudicium is an act of discrimination. Basing her argument of the Kantian distinction between the reflective versus determinate judgments, Hannah Arendt distinguishes two ways the judgments operate: either by discriminating or distinguishing without a given rule or standard or by relating to a standard or a rule to determine being. She works out how in ethical judgments the former takes precedence over the latter. This operation must be based on the aesthetic telos of the singular, or on the exemplary. In the same vein, she investigates the relation of desire to affects as the affects cut across the domain of the practical, in Love and Saint Augustine, ed. Johanna Vechiarelli Scott and Judith Chelius Stark (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), 1996, 9ff. Crucially, this is the redefinition of the practical as such, in the context of Aristotle’s practical judgments. She brings out the importance of affection rather than as, in traditional interpretation taking the practical as an expression of desire and motion (judgment–as goal oriented). Traditionally, Aristotelian judgments have been investigated in regard to the practical syllogisms, as related to action and desire (goal oriented action), as deliberation and causation, (Martha Nussbaum, Aristotle’s “De motu animalium”, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978). In general, as discussed at the end, Arendt’s interest in the aesthetic of the practical, or in other words, reinterpreting practical in aesthetic terms, seems entirely Kantian. Kant’s ethics of “heautonomy” (CJ., 414), of the “joyous future”, felt as a “physiology of quickening” (CJ., 185) , was yet to be written, or one might even say, has been written by Arendt or other reinterpretations of Kant’s aesthetics of auto-affection.

Introduction: The Project of the Third Critique


Kant are always complicated for various, sometimes personal, even impenetrable, reasons. This is especially evident in the writings of Heidegger and his candid, even impassioned, pronouncements. It would be a painstaking endeavor and a worthy pursuit in itself to unravel these references, but it lies beyond the scope of this work. Because of the fraught nature of these readings, it is not enough to simply acknowledge the debt but one also needs to make a convincing case for such readings of Kant. I thought the particular theme of the sensus communis that Kant introduces in highly unusual terms in the Critique of Judgment was a good (by no means, sole) start for such an undertaking (it is the second time I turn to this concept).25 Especially, though there is good evidence he was influenced by theories of “moral sentiments” of his “Liebling” Adam Smith (and Lord Kames)26 there were no prevailing views that might have provided an obvious context within which this concept can be interpreted. Justifiably this work may well be faulted for sketchiness (for most themes treated here, if not already thoroughly investigated, could benefit from being explored in more detail than this work can offer), though I hope, it succeeds in convincingly arguing for the aesthetic precedence in critical philosophy and in demonstrating the link between Kant’s “several aesthetics”.


Kleist’s thoroughly profound work traces the origins of this concept to the Latin humanist tradition, in the context of discussing Arendt’s concept as well. Taken step further, one can see how this concept might be taking shape in the Greek/Latin tradition of which humanism is one part. Edward Eugene Kleist, Judging Appearances, (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers: 2000). 26 See, The Kantian Subject, 37. The Germans took an interest in Smith, but mainly in the field of aesthetics—Lessing in Laocoon (1766) quotes a passage from Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments in his own translation. Herder also makes several references to it, the earliest one being in his aesthetic work, Kritische Wälder (1769). The first German translation of this work was of the third English edition and appeared in 1770. Kant knew and valued it, judging from a letter of 1771 written to him by Markus Herz. A passage in this letter speaks of “the Englishman Smith, who, Mr. Friedlaender tells me, is your favourite (Liebling)” and compares it to another related work by Lord Kames, Principles of Morality and Natural Religion. “Ueber den Engländer Smith, der wie Herr Friedländer mir sagt, Ihr Liebling ist, habe ich verschiedene Remarken zu machen. Auch mich hat dieser Mann ungemein belustigt, aber gleichwohl setze ich ihn dem ersten teil von Home Kritik bey weiten nach”, (my translation), Kant, Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 10, p. 121. About German reception of Smith, see Walter Eckstein, Einleitung, in Adam Smith, Theorie der ethischen Gefühle, (Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1977).




.... .... ....

1 3 4

.... ....

10 14

2 Cecity as a Philosophical Insight . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.1 The Molyneux Debate . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.2 Magnitudes: Phenomenology of the Sublime . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

17 17 21

3 Dennis Diderot and the Secrete Geometry of the Living: Saunderson’s Sublime Vision . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


4 Diderot: An Art Critic–Between Honesty and Fidelity . . . . . . . . . . .


Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


1 Art: The Visible . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.1 The Sublime Vision. Kant’s Discovery: A Priori Sensibility, Pleasure and Pain and the Sensus Communis. Grundkraft . . . 1.2 Beauty/Parergon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.3 Sensus Communis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.4 Platonism and the Veil of the Goddess of Nature. A Copy Theory of Art . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.5 The Illusion of Reality: Mimetic Paradox . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .



References to Kant’s three Critiques are given in the body of the text itself, using the following abbreviations. CJ CPR KrV KU

Critique of Judgment, translated by Werner S. Pluhar, (Indianapolis: Hackett publishing Company, 1987) Critique of Pure Reason, translated by N. Kemp Smith (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1929). Kritik der reinen Vernunft, Werkausgabe, Band III and IV Kritik der Urteilskraft, Werkausgabe, Band X, herausgegeben von Wilhelm Weischedel (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1968)

Page references for CPR are to the standard A and B editions: for CJ I have occasionally referred to section numbers, otherwise references are to the page numbers of the above editions.


Chapter 1

Art: The Visible

1.1 The Sublime Vision. Kant’s Discovery: A Priori Sensibility, Pleasure and Pain and the Sensus Communis. Grundkraft Alle actus des Verstandes und Vernunft können in der Dunkelheit geschehen … Das die Schönheit musse unausprechlich seyn. Was wir denken können wir nicht immer sagen. —Immanuel Kant, Kants Gesammelte Schriften. (Reflection 177) The concept has its roots in the extreme. —Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama.

Kant’s placement of the transcendental aesthetic, as a priori forms of space and time, in the First Critique was unprecedented. Within the black-and-white polarity of sensibility and reason, this insertion has also been seen as highly problematic. In many interpretations, aesthetics is either presented in a single shade of gray (for instance, as it is by Hegel, who, though conceding its potential importance, deemed it too poorly developed to be of consequence) or, reabsorbed in this polarity, becomes lost within the chiasmic abyss that separates these incompatible categories. “Morality does not help me. I am a born antinomian. I am one of those who are made for exceptions, not for laws”. These words from Oscar Wilds’ De Profundis could easily have been uttered by Kant of the Third Critique. Kant introduces several sets of puzzling concepts that involve pairing of apparent opposites, such as purposiveness without purpose, disinterested interest and silent communication. Thus, the question of the absolute (if by this term we understand the end result of the unity that the Third Critique must evince) presents itself in these sorts of deliberately ambiguous terms. In a letter from 1787, Kant writes about his “discovery”:

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 T. Japaridze, The Visible, the Sublime and the Sensus Communis, SpringerBriefs in Philosophy,



1 Art: The Visible I am now at work on the critique of taste, and I have discovered a kind of a priori principle different from those heretofore observed … and though I thought it impossible to find such principles, the systematic nature of the analysis of the previously mentioned faculties of the human mind (the faculty of cognition and the faculty of desire) allowed me to discover them, giving me ample material for the rest of my life, material at which to marvel and if possible explore ….1

This discovery would lead his investigation into the aesthetic judgment. Sensus communis, connected to the feeling of pleasure and pain, produces “free and harmonious” state of mind when bound to the other cognitive faculties. This state supports a highly paradoxical type of “intersubjectivity” of aesthetic judgment that “the subject, merely on the basis of his own feeling of pleasure in an object, independent of the object’s concept, judges this as one attaching to the presentation of that same object in all other subjects, and does so a priori, i.e., without being allowed to wait for other people’s assent” (CJ, 16). Despite this claim to novelty, taking aesthetic judgment as an intermediary within the cognitive faculties has an antecedent in the tradition of the aesthetic theory of late antiquity and the Renaissance.2 Transmitted from Aristotle, the notions of guidizio and gusto3 were discussed together as demarcating the intermediate domain between the sensual and the intellectual and were treated in conjunction with estimation and immediate reaction to things perceived. Aristotle describes imagination, sensation, cognition as each a faculty of judgment or kritikon4 . It is because of this capacity of the senses to judge and discriminate that Aristotle thought it difficult to classify them as either rational or irrational principles. This either/or character of the critical faculty defined the aesthetic sensibility in the tradition following Aristotle. Taking 1 Immanuel

Kant, Philosophical Correspondence, 1759–1799, edited and translated by Arnulf Zweig, (Chicago:University of Chicago Press, 1967), 127. See also a letter to Schultz from 25 of June of the same year, Kants Gesammelte Schriften,Königlich Preussische Akademie der Wissenschaften, (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co.), bd.9., 328. 2 In the broad sense, Aristotle’s notions of sensation, imagination, memory as they make up a particular intellect, and the syllogistic operations that govern them (as distinction, comparison, association, combination, recollection, etc. that are prerational) were the backbone of the medieval aesthetics. To trace the beginnings of modern aesthetics to Aristotle’s notions requires taking into account the transformations that these notions have undergone throughout their long history. Georgio Tonelli has investigated this aspect of the medieval and the Renaissance influence on the modern aesthetics. He traces Baumgarten’s ideas to Aristotle through the influence of Jacopo Zabarella’s ideas about poetry as part of logic. See, Giorgio Tonelli, “Zabarella, inspirateur de Baumgarten”, Revue d’esthétique, 97 1956, 182–192. It has been argued that such influences are common and that it would be more accurate to trace them to the medieval modifications, in this case, to Al-Farabi, (David Summers, 114). How much Kant owed to Proclus’ reading of Platonic mimesis and to the eikastic imitation as correctness, moral exemplarity, its importance for learning, are interesting questions to pursue. When discussing the divisions of fine arts, poetry and visual arts (CJ., 321) Kant does not offer any specific theory. It is only in broad terms that we can surmise the extent of his debt to this tradition through his anti-Platonism and his use of the notion of the sensus communis in this work. 3 David Summers, The Judgment of Sense, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 22. Also, Robert Klein, “Judgment and Taste in Cinquecento Art Theory “, Form and Meaning: Essays on the Renaissance and Modern Art, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), 161–169. 4 Wolfson, 10–11.

1.1 The Sublime Vision. Kant’s Discovery: A Priori Sensibility …


this issue and carrying it further in his own aesthetic project, Kant is seeking to elucidate the a priori nature of sensibility and its corollary—judgment. Kant investigates appetites not in their relation to desire and its “object”— bonum—but to feelings as auto-affective—expressed in “taste”.5 He distances himself from Shaftesbury. He also does not mean to adopt the notion of the sensus communis as it has been worked out by Hutcheson, Hume and Adam Smith in connection with “moral feelings”.6 At first glance, when discussing the common sense, it is difficult to ascertain exactly in which tradition he places himself.

1.2 Beauty/Parergon Kant was reaching into the past by returning the notion of the sensus communis to aesthetics. The sublime as a visual experience is a description of the nature of the act of aesthetic judgment, or as we shall see, of a direct vision, available to poets (and highly specified, to use the term from perception theory). Why is it available to artists and why should philosophy be adopting this vision? As a visual experience, and as an act of beholding that demands the grasp of the (aesthetic) totality, the sublime has to be comprehended “directly”. It is this directness that is characteristic of the way poets perceive: “the way poets do”as “merely in terms of what manifests itself to the eye” (wie die Dichteres tun nachdem, was der Augenscheinzeigt”. (CJ., 130, KU., 196) There are rather long passages in the Critique of Judgment that describe what must transpire in an instant, in a blink of an eye (Augenblick)—literally, as a movement of an eye measured in time, and metaphorically. As well as, it offers the description of the attendant feelings of displeasure and pain (resulting from this experience). In the experience of the sublime, a gradual appreciation of the achieved harmony with the mighty forces of nature is made possible only by the senses that have been tempered by a certain “contrariness” (Widrigkeit) and violence (Gewalt). This will take place instantaneously in the process of aesthetic estimation or judgment, which is equivalent to imminent math or to calculation that is “nach Augenmasse”. This “instantaneous process” is remarkable: this act is imminent to beholding and designates a process of visual estimation. This is the expansion of the themes discussed in “Anticipation” of the First Critique. (CPR. A167) Most importantly, the “spectacle” is a presentation or an immediate scene. Kant distinguishes here between presentation (Darstellung) and representation (Vorstellung). The sublime describes the psychic state that produces beauty or parergon; for beauty, as Kant tells us, is a by-product (Nebenwerk) of this state: “when an artist exhibits the sublime to us, by describing it or clothing it (in ornaments [Nebenwerken], parerga), it can and should be beautiful, since otherwise it is wild, coarse and repulsive, and so contrary 5 On the relation of desire to affects see Hannah Arendt, Love and Saint Augustine, 9 ff. see also, The Kantian Subject, 144. 6 The Kantian Subject, 51 ff.


1 Art: The Visible

to taste”.7 This calliphoric idea of ornament (to use Oleg Grabar’s term)8 contains an important view for art theory which is in contrast to the idea of its superfluity and its dangers—remember Shakespeare’s, “The world is still deceived with ornament… There is no vice so simple but assumes some mark of virtue on his outward parts” and “ the guiled shore”… “the seeming truth which cunning times put on to entrap the wisest” (The Merchant of Venice, act 3, scene2). The work that goes into the production of beauty is a painful labor that starts with introjection—the first psychic pain—of this mimetic labor. If the whole discourse surrounding this aesthetic experience is set in the most ambivalent terms as it depicts this invested disinterestedness in violation of an expressible trope, it is because, ultimately, what it describes is neither ugly nor beautiful. Paradoxically, this discussion results in Kant considering this domain to be unerforscherliches, that is, to be inscrutable or “untheorisable”. This experience of introjections, albeit being inscrutable, is manifest by being felt. The artists are able to reproduce it and make it “beautiful”.9 Moreover, as such, and significantly, this work, this act, that produces nothing but an ornament—this labor, itself beyond categorization—represents a “non-category” (in contrast to the later philosophy of Hegel, for whom the notion of purposive human activity, of labor and its tool, is subsumed under a logical category).10 It is also, again most paradoxically, an estimative, calculating act. This is the nature of aesthetic calculus, which distinguishes the dynamic from mathematical sublime. It is measuring and at the same time descriptive (phenomenological) (CJ.,116).

1.3 Sensus Communis No one would deny that the painter has nothing to do with the things that are not visible. The painter is concerned solely with representing what can be seen. —Leon Battista Alberti. I can represent no line, however small, except by drawing it in thought. —Immanuel Kant, Critic of Pure Reason.

Taste (Italian Gusto), this irrevocably subjective of all the five senses, seems to have been connected with beauty and with right judgments or, so called, immediate judgments for the first time in Renaissance Italy (Filarete (1464), F.Rinuccini 7 Immanuel

Kant, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, translated, with an Introduction and Notes, by Mary J. Gregor, (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974), 109–111. 8 Oleg Grabar, The Meditation of Ornament, the A.W. Mellon Lectures on the Fine Arts, Bollingen Series XXXV., 38, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), 26. 9 It also expresses the “life pulse” or “Lebensgef‚ uel”. Similar ideas are described by blind Saunderson on his deathbed, discussed further. 10 Jorgen Habermas, “From Kant to Hegel and Back Again”, European Journal of Philosophy, July 1999, volume 7, issue 2, 129.

1.3 Sensus Communis


(1840).11 The faculties that accounted for these judgments were called inner senses and were linked with imagination, fantasy, memory, etc. The judgments that they performed were acts of distinction, comparison, association and combination. The Renaissance drew upon these as a term to describe the application of intuitive judgments, which were instinctive estimations or inferences in cases of optical experiences. These were the faculties that were derived in the Middle Ages from Aristotle’s notion of koine aesthesis. The sensus communis specifically became one of the important concepts of the Renaissance as linked with optics to describe a certain kind of visual experience that was determined by point of view or the subjective standpoint in the Renaissance. Art had emerged as model of vision and perception because of this formal element in the convention of modeling together with optics and finally with the painter’s perspective. The interest of the Renaissance theorists in these aesthetic judgments lay in that they were thought to be able to account for the fact that though the imitation produced in naturalist art is determined by the physical geometry of sight, light and shading, geometry does not fully explain the precision with which the optical experience is reproduced. Perspective entails more than simply a precise location of the viewer. In addressing the nature of the reflective or aesthetic judgment (vs. determinate judgments) Kant develops the notion of the sensus communis which harks back to the inner senses with these connotations in mind. When in connection to the sublime he asks to look the way poets do, directly, possibly he is attempting to construct a theory of perception via this aesthetic experience and in affirmation of the context of the language and findings about optics that are unique to art. Kant exonerates the role of the faculties that account for such judgments, of the inner senses, the sensus communis being one of them. By the time Kant was writing, the notion of the sensus communis had undergone major transformations and as a result had lost the aesthetic connotation. Kant will show how this faculty marks the first fundamental point of contact with exteriority and provides the primary basis on which concepts and knowledge may be formed. In general, Kant is not too forthcoming with references unlike Hegel, for instance, who, it is well known, was a prolific commentator on the history of philosophy. As it might be recalled, Kant wraps up the whole history of reason on the very last pages of his immense Critique of Pure Reason and reduces it to a two-page struggle between rationalism and empiricism. Within the German tradition, his aesthetics clearly goes beyond Leibnitz, Bodmer, as well as G.E. Lessing’s, Meng’s and Crusius’ rationalism. Neither does it adhere to Moses Mendelsohn’s questioning of the rationalist 11 Alfred

Baumler, Kants Kritik der Urteilskraft, Ihre Geschichte und Systematik (Halle, 1923): reprinted as Das Irrationalitätsproblem in der Ästhetik und Logik des 18. Jahrhunderts bis zurKritik der Urteilskraft (Darmstadt, 1967). Giorgio Tonelli, Kant, dall’ estetica metafisica all’esthetica psicoempirica, Memorie della Accademia delle Scienze di Torino, Series 3, vol.3, part II (Turin, 1955), 24. Giorgio Tonelli, “La formazione del testo della Critik der Urteilkraft”, Revue Internationale de philosophie 30, Brussels, 1954, pp. 423–48. Also, “Von den Verschiedenen Bedeutungen des Wortes Zweckmässigkeit in der Kritik der Urteilskraft”, Kantstudien 49/2, 1957/8.Giorgio Tonelli, “Taste in the History of Aesthetics from the Renaissance to 1779”, Dictionary of the History of Ideas, IV, 354.


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view. He disregarded these views, perhaps, as too derivative of the English and the French. In 1712, Leibnitz based his aesthetics on a short interpretation of Shaftsbury’s doctrine. At the period bon goût was in general a preferred term to German Geschmack.12 As for the common sense, Kant’s pronouncements are sometimes even derogatory: the “Urteil der Menge”, “Probirstein”, “nochnichtkultivierten” and “bequemes Mittel”. As we know, he also differentiates between practical and theoretical senses: gesundem Menschenverstand and gemeiner Menschenvernunft. Also, Geschmack is considered a Gemeinsinn. Subsequently, the ambivalence toward this notion survives in German philosophy. This overview is by no means complete, but this ambivalence, apparent in the above examples, itself is noteworthy. If Jacobi uses it in a positive sense and in the context of perception and calls the sensus communis “A und Ω aller Wahrnemungen”, as Herder, who uses the term in the context of apperception and perception (Auffasung, Empfänglichkeit), and if for Goethe, strangely, the notion is a metaphor which stands for philosophy itself and expresses a certain sense of grandeur vis-à-vis the sciences,13 then later this positive sense is lost. For Schelling it is fit for Poebel. Hegel declares this “trivial rhetoric” to stand for “truths”, the way “chicory might for coffee”.14 The Third Critique also is poor in references. However, the fact that Kant places the investigation of the sensus communis in the contexts of the aesthetics in this critique already speaks of a broader reach of his argument. By the time Kant was writing, the view of the world as a phantasm, as an image, that is not opposed to reason, as that which has a physical basis, i.e., is optical, that is, is aesthetic per se, had remained, it seems, an acceptable hypothesis only within the practice of art (and not within the theory that followed the Newtonian optics, as we shall see in a moment). All in all, in the modern period with the idea that “all sense is fancy” (Hobbes), the view that the senses are unclear, inchoate, the Aristotelian technical theory of perception loses its meaning within which the sensus communis had a significant role to play. This vast tradition which linked the faculties such as imagination (fantastikon), cogitation (dianoetikon) and memory (mnemouneutikon) together was based on Aristotle’s notions of virtus distinctiva or kritikon,15 which, in 12 Rudolf Eisler, Wörterbuch der philosophischen Begriffe, 4th ed, 1930. Das Historische Wörterbuch

der Philosophie, herausgegebern, Joachim Ritter, Schwabe Verlag, Basel, under “sensus communis”. Giorgio Tonelli, “Taste in the History of Aesthetics from the Renaissance to 1779”, Dictionary of the History of Ideas, IV, 354. 13 Wissenschaften einzeln sind gleichsam nur die Sinne, mit denen wir den Gegenständen Face machen; die Philosophie oder die Wissenschaften der Wissenschaften ist der s.c.” Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Gedenkausgabe, ed., E. Beutler, (Zurich, 1949), XXII, 211,467. See also, “Die H. ¨ Begriffsgeschichte, 15, 161–214. Blumenberg, “Beobachtungen an Metaphern”, in Archiv fur 14 George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, translated by A. V. Miller, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), paragraph 68, 42. 15 Aristotle’s term krinein was translated as iudicare though the Latin cognate of krinein is cernere, which means to separate, divide, to see distinctly, to choose, or decide or discern, substantives corresponding to which would imply both critique and criterion, a mean and estimation. The use of Krinein (De Anima III, 7, 428a 2–3) in connection with cognition of truth and falsehood in Aristotle was similar to the use of “distinguish” in the medieval writers, with which this term was translated. In the ability to make distinctions, imagination, sensation and mind are each kritikon (de motu

1.3 Sensus Communis


its capacity to make adequate judgments about what is seen, became conflated with the geometry of sight and of light (i.e., optics).16 The arguments for the ability of the eye or the common sense to judge magnitudes with sufficient precision was at least as interesting to Ghiberti as arguments for the geometric constructions of perspective which he in fact omitted when copying Alhazen’s arguments for the estimation of relative magnitudes in sight in his commentary.17 The physiological and the physical are brought together in the estimative sense.18 It is these arguments that, I believe, are revisited by Kant in the discussion of the sublime. Optical naturalism rests on the theoretical assumption that the judgment of the eye is able to solve crucial artistic difficulties of foreshortening and movement. This fuses physical with subjective as it conveys the relation between the sight and the object set in terms of light through the science of optics and modeling. These two in fact developed concurrently. The ability of the sense to make such judgment was to solve the following for the artist: as naturalism depicts an optical experience, it must use the science of optics as well as incorporate aesthetics as a framework for animalium 700b20) (Wolfson, 259). They accounted for judgments based on the intuitive grasp of circumstances and objects by estimation, discrimination, distinction, etc. Also, they designated postsensationary faculties and in its simplest form include these senses. The internal senses sometimes were called faculties (vis, virtus, facultas, potential). Augustine uses the terms, internal sense, faculty or apprehension ( sensus interior, sensus or vis) as synonymous with Aristotle’s common sense koinonaistetherion. Sight and touch “intuit” (Intueor, meaning to look or gaze upon the “series of progressively higher kinds of vision” in Boethius) and “comprehend” respectively. (Summers, 26, Etienne Gilson, History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages, (New York: Random House,1955), 335). Recalling “before the minds’ eye”, what is not present, is essential operation of these inner faculties. They have rationality that characterizes memory, recollection and quickwittedness. Outer and inner inform each other (as self-reflective, capable of delight and pleasure). In this sense, they are attuned to harmony, thus are estimative, able to discover symmetry and harmony. The heuristic idea that informs these reflective senses is important for Kant’s as well as of Diderot’s aesthetics. Affective is commensurate with the physical. It conveys knowledge (albeit of particulars). This aesthetic reflection (wondering that things are as they are), affection such as delight (in beauty), sense of wonder (in varietas) that surpasses understanding, takes pleasure in sense, and as judgment (the common sense) is also estimative (estimatio). A phantasm produced is commensurate with the physical. This estimative sense as the “mathematics” of direct apprehension, I take to be what Kant refers to as the “wholeness” of experience, “taking in as whole”, or an act of interiorisation. 16 David Summers, 27. “… the development and diffusion of optics must have fundamentally altered notions of perception and intellection; because, at least in principle, the eye, according to most basic postulates of optics, truly reflects what is before it” (172ff). This view finds its limit in the eighteenth-century optics and we shall look at the history of this development. 17 Ibid., 169. The particular sense of vision serves as a trustworthy source for the estimation of magnitudes. The Renaissance theorists were interested precisely in this type of judgments (162– 3). This was tied to the aesthetic perception or the ability to apprehend “what is instantaneous and evident”. For Leonardo, the eye (what he calls the window of the soul) is identified with the common sense, senso commune,—the discriminating faculty. It is that which judges (giudica) and surveys the world. The painter shows us things all at once. This echoes Alhazen on the perception of beauty. The painter sees not the visual unity only but aesthetic unity-harmony- and that is instantaneously and immediately evident (ibid.). 18 The common sensibles are connected with the physical as magnitude, number, shape, size and as a guarantee of the essential rationality of the act of vision. Aristotle’s common sensibles are


1 Art: The Visible

vision. These processes were evidently not the same for the Renaissance theorists. The invention of perspective made the viewpoint integral to the basic visual structure of painting.19 The perspective (Latin for optics) ensures that the verisimilitude of a mimetic image is determined by a physical geometry of sight. The image is built on the basis of the physical relation between sight and its object and light. The paradox of the subjective viewpoint (Panofsky) provided by perspective is not a mere convention. That we see the way things really are from a viewpoint was explained by the technique of perspective representation and the projective geometry of the eighteenth-century optics. However, the inverse optics that stem from it, is itself problematical, as we shall see shortly. A closer look at the Renaissance painting reveals that there is more to this viewpoint: it entails more than the simple location of the viewer, of the artist or a beholder, in relation to the represented forms. Naturalist painting is able to replicate perception and the particular feature of perception that goes beyond this point-projection theory of pictorial representation or the perspectival theory. Though the technique was invented during the Renaissance by painters, the awareness that visual experience can never be exhaustively explained by the point-projection theory, that the sense judgments are crucial in solving the technical difficulties in practice, is discernible throughout, as at its inception, so later, and especially in eighteenth-century painting and theory. This is how I interpret Damisch’s assertion concerning the highly theoretical nature of painterly practice as it tried to solve within itself the duality of the mode of representation, one perspectival and the other phenomenological. That this became a major concern in the eighteen century seems to be well demonstrated by Diderot and Goethe in their writings on contemporary painting and currents, though naturally not quite couched within the same language as Damisch. If so, in the eighteen century it was the only vision theory that was not properly based on projective geometry. By the eighteenth century the technique of perspective representation, discovered by painters in the Renaissance, had matured along with the developing science of optics. An English mathematician could assert in 1715 that in order to produce a perfect painting of objects, ‘the Light ought to come from the Picture to the spectator’s Eye in the very same manner as it would do from the Objects themselves’.20 As the painters are well aware, in order to express the three-dimensionality within the means of projective geometry, one needs the fundamentals of geometry. However, perspective is one way of seeing. It is “frozen”, it is the beholder’s view “from here” and it is learned. Fidelity to the object, however, is “non-geometric” and must be expressed non-geometrically. Rendering that what one sees in the most accurate manner is based on the right judgment that is above and beyond what geometrical movement, rest, shape, magnitude number and unity (de anima, 425a 15). As we will see further, Martin Heidegger’s reading makes intentionality key to understanding Kant’s intuitions. Special sensibles always occur together with magnitude, that is, color with surface. So even fallacious judgment are frequent in judging common sensibles, but they admit verifications. These judgments are not ad punctum, but they are judgments about measurable and serve us well. Because we cannot measure ad punctum does not mean that we do not see–or judge–anything at all. 19 Erwin Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form. 20 James J. Gibson, “The Information Available in Pictures”, (Leonardo, Vol. 4, 1971), 27–35.

1.3 Sensus Communis


laws can give you. This expression is not a convention but a reproduction of the perceptual experience.21 Naturalism in painting was able to express the mode of representation that was unique to it and, at the same time, develop a theoretical language that was able to account for this mode of representation, which was largely based on the theoretical elaboration of the possibilities that were contained within the language of aesthetics.22 During the Renaissance the senso communo emerged as an important critical concept. It was thus that the language of the “subjective” or the “perspectival” became understood as maniera, i.e., as artists’ own vision. When discussing the poetic vision, Kant evokes, I believe, this aesthetic tradition. Kant exonerates the senses to investigate perception, namely, vision, that is direct, unmediated and provides the fundamental and original point of contact on the basis of which conceptual knowledge can be formed. It is not underspecified in the sense that the state of the world must be inferred from the fleeting forms of ambiguous images. Kant will combat the eighteen-century idea of the veil of perception or so-called inverse optics, or underspecification, (though this might seem paradoxical from him as he has also evoked elsewhere the veil of Isis) without even engaging in the debate and placing his argument (or rather more, avoiding the argument altogether through this subtle preterition, one might even say) within the aesthetic tradition, against Platonism and his theory of mimesis, and he considers it sufficient to combat the idea of inverse optics and underspecification on the grounds of the transcendental aesthetics. The argument that Kant might have been aware of this aesthetic tradition of the sensus communis within the pictorial tradition will remain a conjecture only. Moreover, that he was taking into account the transformations in art that took place in a certain specific period of its development might seem a farfetched idea. However, it is also the case that the pictorial art began to explore perception in an unprecedented way. In order to find the practical solutions for the expression of its findings it had developed a theoretical language as well. The development it is argued here was important for philosophy. Several centuries in the development and closer to Kant, these technical methods deepened the rift between the deliberately illusory point of view and the expressiveness of flatness, the light and the line. The ability of the eye to judge the relations of space reinstates the eye as a judge and a critic. Philosophical truth might be considered to be indebted to this truth in painting. Velasques’s example is the case in point.23

21 Ibid. 22 David

Summers, 164. Serres observes that the Renaissance discovery of the painterly perspective had found its scientific validation later in Desargues’s construction of infinity. From his point of view, this notion defined the classical age. Desargues’s theorem allowed undoing of the paired notions finitude/central point and infinity/decentering, or the centering of space that could be extended infinitely. This is an important idea in the context of the discussion of the sublime. Michel Serres, Le Système de Leibniz et ses modèles mathématiques, (Paris, 1968), 657, quoted in Hubert Damisch, The Origin of Perspective, 49. 23 Michel


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In what follows, I will try to show why, within his overall project, this aesthetic was so important for Kant to combat the eighteenth-century skepticism. As well, by showing its pivotal role and its necessity for critical philosophy, it would establish his transcendental aesthetic on a firm footing. As the philosophy that aims to overcome dogmatism and skepticism, it must go back to aesthetics and the senses. The Molyneux debate bears this out. The eighteenth-century dependence on Newton’s optics is one way of looking at what Kant might have found “Platonic” in the theory of knowledge of the period and, therefore, objectionable. Diderot seems to find the debate missing the point entirely. His “aesthetic epistemology” and his “palpable arithmetic” invalidate the argument on the both sides of the debate, so he argues. His “Epicurean geometry” might have been something perhaps too outré for Kant, something that had made him blush (errörtet) as well (just like the Scotts, for entirely different reasons), but far more to his taste.

1.4 Platonism and the Veil of the Goddess of Nature. A Copy Theory of Art The eye, the most sunlike of all the instruments of sense. —Plato, Republic. So, sight comes closest to pure intuition. —Kant, Anthropology from the Pragmatic Point of View.

Though the address might be only implicit, from the way Kant formulates his argument when talking of the Dichter in the chapter on the sublime, the assumption can be made that he is addressing the issue of the Platonic scorn of the artist and of the artistic activity, as an instance of the deceptiveness of the senses and of the “mimetic confusion” that results from it. This “mimetic confusion” has an effect on the truthfulness of representation. As if Kant was directly addressing Proclus in his commentary on Plato’s Republic where Proclus comments that the poet who writes about the sun rising from the lake does so according to his phantasia only, as it is only what the poets seem to see, and implies that this reference has important epistemic merit.24 This theme takes us back to Plato himself. It is with him that we see this particular dichotomy, between the artist’s way of seeing and the truth, evolve into the issue of representation. This is well illustrated in the Republic where the question of mimesis is raised. He discusses the special role of zographos or the painter and the gramateus or the scribe in generating copies of “falsehood”, or rather, of the various degrees of truth as tied to the initial act of judgment. These themes are featured in Philebus, Theaetetus as well as, Sophist. Hans-Georg Gadamer points to this Platonic double stigma of mimesis as conveying the pervasive view about the inequality of the two categories, that of philosophy and that of aesthetics. Thus, the moniker 24 Proclus

cited by M. W. Bundy, The Theory of Imagination in Classical and Medieval Thought, (Urbana: Illinois, 1927), 142. David Summers, 43.

1.4 Platonism and the Veil of the Goddess of Nature …


of Platonism applies to anti-aestheticism that has plagued philosophy in various guises throughout the centuries, according to Gadamer. It was “since Plato” that this tendency swayed all epistemological questions. Kant’s argument in the sublime can be understood as an argument for what he perceives to be the epistemological Platonism of much of the eighteenth-century philosophy. “Since Plato” or, perhaps, from even earlier times, the notions of mimesis and fallacy are paired. In the Platonic dialogues, mimesis is discussed as a feature that concerns sophistic “falsity”. It is about the sensate judgments as such and about the possibility of false judgments that prove that “knowledge is simply perception”. It is also about the special role of a zographos in generating copies of “this falsehood”— in manufacturing falsehood. As the job of the painter is unequivocally negative, the discussion of the mechanism of the production of a copy starts with judging, in the famous discussion in book 10 of the Republic. As well, this topic dominates the themes of the number of other dialogues. As in Philebus, it is about distinguishing (krinein) (“the man from afar” (38a–39c)). It is also discussed in Theaetetus and in Sophist. A possibility of false judgments is tied to the eikastic technique (likeness making) and is juxtaposed to phantasma. However, the three terms of Plato, eidolon, eikon and phantasia (one can also add tupos) are all “reunited under the ignominious charge of deception (260c)” and “copy-making and appearance-making” in association with that which is not”.25 Gramateus, or the scribe, and zographos, or the painter, provide copies and illustrations of the various degrees of truthfulness, all tied to the initial act of judgment. In these dialogues, judging correctly what appears to oneself raises the question of sense and thought and their interaction. If throughout the history of philosophy, these questions inevitably returned to Plato and Aristotle’s corresponding views, to the parity or disparity of these views, for the most part, the answers remained undecided.26 It can be argued that Aristotle had largely maintained Platonic views regarding mental faculties and perception, but it is also true that his ideas about the inner senses, namely imagination or phantasia (derived from phao-light, thus, the etymology may hint on the perceptual sense) cuts across perception and knowledge.27 Aristotle’s arguments about the image of wax imprint and the role of the imagination in production of images, to a great extend, diverge from unambiguous Platonic disdain for its deceptive nature. Heidegger’s reading of mimesis in the famous tenth book of the Republic is about Plato’s aletheia and the “sensible visibility” of ideas that art subverts. The relation of art to truth is viewed in connection with “imitation, viewed as a whole” (595c).28 Why this word “imitation”? This concerns the truth and the “sensible visibility”of 25 Paul

Ricoeur, Memory, History, Forgetting, translated by Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 12. 26 Paul Ricoeur, Memory, History, Forgetting, 14. 27 Ibid. 28 Plato, Collected Dialogues, edited by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns, (Princeton: New Jersey, 1961). See Heidegger’s interpretation of the Platonic dialogue. Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche, volume I, translated by David Farrell Krell (New York: Harper and Row, 1979), 171–187. Also, Martin Heidegger’s interpretation of Plato’s idea of likeness and truth in Martin Heidegger, Vom Wesen der Wahrheit, chapter “Platons Lehre von der Wahrheit”, in Wegmarken, Gesamtausgabe, Band 9, (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1996), 204–237.


1 Art: The Visible

ideas, i.e., their manifestation in the phenomena. Juxtaposed to one another are the phainomenon and on teialetheiai. The phainomenon is self-showing, making manifest—making present—but it is also a “semblance” or an “appearance” and a mere “show”. In discussing different tropes (the modes of presenting), Plato’s assumption is that the tropes dull and obscure the idea (physis) since the ideas are by essence inimitable. Therefore, if the idea is actually imitated or represented, this would produce the gradation of reality. The distance from the idea and its pure visibility defines also the essence of the mimesis: every single being which is “properly real”, manifests itself in three modes of outward appearance. Accordingly, it can be traced back to three ways of self-showing or an act of production, and each of these productions has its producer: God, craftsman and artist each producing according to a different trope. A craftsman can manufacture and bring forth the idea in its usability. A painter, however, is further removed from reality because what he produces is a different representation of the idea. He is not a demiourgos (like the craftsman) but mimetes (a copier). He does not even produce things that are useful or usable. And finally, he produces phantasmata (598b), i.e., images that are seen only from a certain viewpoint, from one perspective. Therefore, what is represented this way is not really fully disclosed. “So, then, art stands far removed from truth”. Thus, there is a hierarchy of disclosure. There is a path from immediacy to transcendence: “but of course not for the dull eyed”. With Kant the shift from Platonism is complete. First, the break between transcendence and immanence is total and categorical. The veil of Isis (the goddess of nature) cannot be lifted, nor can it be made thin (dünne).29 The underlining “Platonism” of the issue is, of course, also the epistemological problem that is closer at hand to Kant. It correlates with the untrustworthiness of sense as genuinely eighteenth-century problematic, and now is recast in an aesthetic question, as it is also for Plato. Plato’s contempt for the fallacies of sense perception and in particular the fallacies of sight is related to the idea of art and truth. As was said, it is expressed in the copy theory of art. The untruthfulness of the phantasmata as twice removed from truth, as the products of a form of play not to be taken seriously, are also considered to be insidious like witchcraft, with a power to corrupt. (603d) This is because of the positioning of the eye and because of the judgments about magnitudes. Plato famously states “the same magnitude, I presume, viewed from near and from far does not appear equal… And the same thing appears bent and 29 Immanuel Kant, “On the Newly Arisen Superior Tone in Philosophy”, 67, in Raising the Tone of Philosophy, edited by Peter Fenves, (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993). He also refers to this in the Critique of Judgment: “Perhaps nothing more sublime has ever been said, or a thought ever been expressed more sublimely, than that inscription above the temple of Isis (Mother Nature): ‘I am all that is, that ever was, and that will be and no mortal has lifted my veil.’ Segner made use of this idea in an ingenious vignette prefixed to his Naturlehre [Natural Science], so as first to imbue the pupil, whom he was about to lead into this temple, with the sacred thrill that is meant to attune the mind to solemn attentiveness.”(CJ., 317/185). See also, CRP., A 312–A 320. For Kant’s relation to Plato and Platonism see also Jacques Derrida, “On the Newly Arisen Apocalyptic Tone in Philosophy”, 137ff. in Raising the Tone of Philosophy, edited by Peter Fenves. Also, Jacques Derrida, The Post Card, translated by Alan Bass, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1987).

1.4 Platonism and the Veil of the Goddess of Nature …


straight to those who view them in water and out, or concave and convex, owing to similar errors of vision of colors… And so scene painting in its exploration of this weakness of our nature falls nothing short of witchcraft (602c)”. Art and the art of painting especially thus epitomize the untrustworthiness of sense. Plato is in favor of calculation, measurements, numbers and weights, operations of reason which are always to be preferred to less certain judgments that produce appearances. Within this Platonic scheme of oppositions, phantasms are antithetical to truth precisely because imitation must always be based on apparent magnitudes and therefore on contradictions. If according to Plato sight can perceive more than any of the other senses can, and thus it is privileged in that way, it is still an instrument and can be mistaken.30 The Platonic framework of perception that is derived from this derision of art is the framework that downgrades the senses. I take it to be the criticism of this framework rehearsed by Kant in order to combat the view expressed in the famous veil of perception view, dominant in the eighteenth century. Kant seems to approach it as a form of philosophical Platonism. He essentially transforms and presents it as an epistemological problem while it is still couched within this Platonic framework. With this moniker of Platonism, as we said above, one can designate the idea that conveys the inequality of the two categories of philosophy and aesthetics as it is embodied in the double stigma of mimesis. The view persisted throughout the centuries or “since Plato”, according to Hans-Georg Gadamer, the end of which coincides with the modern period. “Only when philosophy and metaphysics got into crisis in relation to the cognitive sciences did they discover again their proximity to poetry which they had denied since Plato…. Since then it makes sense to acknowledge the autonomous claims to truth of literature, but this takes place at the price of an unexplained relationship to the truth of scientific knowledge”.31 In the context of later philosophy this presents a very accurate, if somewhat deflated, assessment. Martin Heidegger, 30 “The aesthetic principle” of the Greek art is characterized by the rejection of “objective proportions” in favor of the “eurhythmic adjustments. Erwin Panofsky find the validation of this characteristic of the Greek art in Plato’s Sophist (235d). This process involved “increasing or diminishing the objectively correct dimensions”, which “neutralized” the subjective distortions of the work of art. Greek sculptors rejected a rigid canon used by the Egyptians to work according to the “fantasies of sight”, and considered the sense of sight itself to be a ratio. Panofsky states this aesthetic principle to be behind optics. Erwin Panofsky, Meaning in the Visual Arts: Papers in and on Art History, (Garden City: New York, 1955), 69–70. This echoes Vitruvius’s acumen ingenii (as such phenomena cannot be dealt with doctrina), who observes that, it is through the effort of iudicum that, for instance, projecting columns are seen in painting. This implies that before systematic geometric explanation of what we really see, it is the business of judgment on practical level to work with the fallacies of sight. To work with senses, rather than counteract them, means that the demands of the eye must be met, and the sense is the final judge of the appearance, but of ratio: that is to say that the adjustments of the eye impart harmonious relation to what is actually being seen—and are constructed according to the same principles as ornament, and the same principle, as when we see a broken stick in water. (David Summers, 42). 31 Hans-Georg Gadamer, Aesthetik und Poetik I. Kunst alsAussage (Tuebingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1993), quote in Andrew Bowie, “German Idealism and the Arts”, in German Idealism, edited by Karl Ameriks (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 239.


1 Art: The Visible

for instance, saw in this “Platonism” a far more insidious problem. This issue will be discussed at the end of this work.

1.5 The Illusion of Reality: Mimetic Paradox To reiterate what was stated above: from this “mimetic” point of view, there takes place something that has an important and a paradoxical consequence. This point of view, that mistrusts the senses, produces the “illusion of reality” in both perceptions as well as art. Furthermore, this paradox is what makes art to be so special in the context of philosophy. As an “imitation”, it demonstrates the problem with inverse optics. Art seems to be a model of perception in that it can imitate reality just as well as (or as badly as) the senses themselves do. This fascination with illusion is illustrated in the legend of Pygmalion. The reason for his confusion was that he saw the image and the reality as identical.32 This paradox or confusion is the result of the inverse optical problem within the perceptual framework explained by point-projection theory. In the context of the eighteenth century, inverse optics is also premised on the idea of the insufficiency of that what the senses can provide in regard to matter and space, distance, proximity, etc. The fidelity of the image in this sense of physical optics is defined as a point projection of color and contrasts, but not surfaces or distance and dimension, as we shall see below in the discussion of the so-called Molyneux problem and Diderot’s criticism of the issues involved. The optics of the eighteenth century is based on the point-projection theory. Newton’s doctrine of visual sensations explains how we sense light rays on the retina and then we interpret the retinal image. Seen in this way, perception conveyed in art is also that of point-projection theory. That is why we can be mistaken. A good copy is a copy of a copy of the reality we have. This is because the senses are not an adequate source; they are insufficiently accurate to convey the fidelity of the experience. On the other hand, optical illusion is a lie but a very good one, precisely because of this feature. To correct it we resort to mathematics. The infidelity of art is like the infidelity of the eye, and art in this regard is, as well, a model of perception. To go back to Kant, he is giving us at once a theory of vision and a theory of art. Viewed thus, we can see why he is asking us to understand vision in terms of art, via art. In order to combat the epistemological Platonism, he needs to take on, as a starting point, the perception theory that lies behind it. It seems to be the copy theory of both visions as well as art. In a way, his transcendental aesthetics must have demonstrated in his view the independence of intuitions. However, perhaps not sufficiently clear, for his argument from the Euclidean theory has left many uncertainties in the interpretation, as we will see shortly. Here he insists on the vision that is direct, the vision that can present and not represent. This vision is available to artists—it is, in fact, the very basis of the artistic 32 E.

H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961).

1.5 The Illusion of Reality: Mimetic Paradox


experience and one must trust this experience. For Plato, the senses must be mistrusted not only because they lie, but also because they do it so well. The mimesis poses the problem. It is the resemblance that misleads and is the result of the copy theory of perception and of art. The optical illusion consists in this, that it is very good at “witchcraft”. The sensory input that produces the image from a real thing is the same in painting. A painted apple and a real apple result from two identical retinal images that yield the same perception. This follows from physical optics. The only information that the eye gets is the color and brightness—the rest is subject to interpretation. In painting, the transcription of three-dimensional images into two-dimensional images is made possible by using perspective geometry. Similarly, to translate the two-dimensional retinal image one must use perspective geometry. Perspective seems to prescribe what artists should do and is constraining. The painters know that geometry does not work, as Gibson points out.33 But the paradox consists in that neither can it be relegated to the convention or “the language of space”.34 There is a perceptual basis that makes the subjective viewpoint express what the geometric viewpoint is not able to express. It was this that the aesthetic language of the sensus communis was attempting to convey in theory. David Summer’s argument could be understood as stating that at the very inception, naturalism was concerned with this duality. Expressing the way things are set in the ambient light and surface is not a convention but the investigation of perceptual relations set in physical terms. However, what is the source of this expression, if not projection? Painterly perspective is a fixed point,

33 James J. Gibson, “The Information Available in Pictures”, (Leonardo, Vol. 4, 1971), 27–35., J.J. Gibson & R. Arnheim, “Exchange of Letters”, (Leonardo, Vol. 4, 1971), 195–203., “The ‘What’ and the ‘How’: Perspective Representation and the Phenomenal World”, in R. Rudner and I. Scheffler, (eds.), Logic and Art: Essays in Honor of Nelson Goodman, (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1972), 129– 49. “The Light which comes from the several points of the Object is so refracted as to… paint the Picture of the object upon that skin called the Retina… And these Pictures, propagated by motion along the Fibres of the Optick Nerves into the Brain, are the cause of Vision. For accordingly as these Pictures are perfect or imperfect, the Object is seen perfectly or imperfectly”[2]. B. Taylor, Linear Perspective, (London, 1715), 2. I. Newton, Opticks, 1730, (New York: Dover Publications, 1952), 15. 34 James J. Gibson examines different perspective theories that, he thinks, have one thing in common, that they err by interpreting it as a convention. He discusses N. Goodman, Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols (New York: Bobbs-Merrill,1968), G. Kepes, Language of Vision (Chicago: Paul Theobald, 1944) and Arnheim, who in Art and Visual Perception asserts that only a kind of ‘shift of level’ is needed ‘to make the Picassos, the Braques, or the Klees, look exactly like the things they represent’ [19]. “These paintings do not now represent things for us, he seems to admit, but they will come to do so. A crucial issue in the debate is whether or not the use of perspective in painting is a convention. This assertion was made by the art historian Erwin Panofsky and it has been upheld by Kepes, by Arnheim and by Goodman”. Hubert Damisch (The Origin of Perspective, 6) makes a similar assertion (as he criticizes Erwin Panofsky’s reliance on symbolic forms) and discusses the perspective as one of the major symbolic forms by means of which the mind—as Ernst Cassirer would put it—“apprehends being, or as some would say (including Cassirer), by means of which it apprehends reality, or the world, and interprets it”.


1 Art: The Visible

it is true. But this fixed point has a double meaning as Hubert Damisch points out— one is technical, geometric or perspectival, while the other is phenomenological. We will discuss the meaning of this shortly.35 Naturalism as a visual model solves the inverse optics problem as vision is specified.36 The geometric properties render a scene intractable under affine distortions (slant, local depth, curvature cannot be reliably perceived). However, there is a real basis to being able to express the fidelity because what you see is not underspecified. For Helmholz, this was also the issue with the assumptions of prior knowledge and his problem with Kant, as we shall see in the argument below, and why it might have seemed so to him from the transcendental aesthetics of Kant. The environment to be perceived is not the world of physics, so there is no need to assume any prior knowledge of mathematical properties. Informational regularities to which judgments respond are the invariables of texture, illumination, gradients, angles and regularities of surfaces and light. “Space is surface” is Gibson’s famous phrase. Judgments are able to recover this information. I will clarify this further by turning to the eighteenth-century debates about vision and the ideas expressed specifically in the Molyneux debate. The senses cannot convey three-dimensional experience. As a result, optics needs to supplant it with geometry. The eye cannot furnish enough necessary information; the intuition fails to convey the sense of reality. Diderot will oppose this view with his “sensuous and immanent geometry”. He will downgrade the arguments made on both sides of the Molyneux debate. In an important way, he argues that even Voltaire, who praises Berkley’s materialism in this case, falls on the side of idealism by ignoring the fact that the senses are in touch with exteriority. This “touch” is not knowledge; however, it is not a mere sign either that lets the mind “interpret” nature, in opposition to Voltaire’s view. In the most important respect, the aesthetic exerts teleological purposefulness—it is independent as it has its own telos.

35 Hubert

Damisch, The Origin of Perspective, translated by John Goodman, (Boston: MIT Press, 1995), 443. 36 James J. Gibson, “The Information Available in Pictures”, “The ‘What’ and ‘How,’” 130.

Chapter 2

Cecity as a Philosophical Insight

2.1 The Molyneux Debate Kant’s approach to aesthetics is twofold: first, in Critique of Pure Reason, he precedes his logic with the transcendental aesthetic and second, in the Third Critique, he centers his critical philosophy within it. Thus, the importance of this addition of aesthetics to critical philosophy cannot be underestimated and yet, it remains one of the most difficult aspects of Kant for interpretation. How is one to understand the nature of the transcendental sensibility as “merely” the aspect of human cognition? It concerns the representation building aspect of cognition, schematism and imagination. There is also a possibility that Kant’s idea is not only full of difficulties but is simply untenable, just plainly wrong, as so many commentators also hold. But, crucially, it accounts for the theory of space/time, cognition in space and time, Euclidean geometry and three-dimensional space and ultimately for the nature of the operation of schematism—“this mystery hidden in the depth of human soul”. Thus, without any doubt, it is the most crucial aspect for Kant’s entire theory, as he is well aware, because of the accusations of Berkeley’s idealism, and more generally, because it needs to be salvaged from the eighteenth-century theory of knowledge. In a word, it underpins all that is new and radical in critical philosophy. Yet, to many readers of Kant he seems to be squarely falling into the familiar categories of the eighteenthcentury epistemology, thus, not being much different from those against whom he is arguing. The difficulty with the transcendental aesthetic is considered to lie in that it is impossible to ascertain whether the theory is nativist or intuitionist, or whether it belongs with the subjective or the objective. Some commentators have called it the most idiosyncratic part of the First Critique.1 But again, it seems only this manner

1 Andrew

Brook, “Lorne Falkenstein, Kant’s Intuitionism: A Commentary on the Transcendental Aesthetic”, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Volume 28, no. 2: 247–268 (1998). © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 T. Japaridze, The Visible, the Sublime and the Sensus Communis, SpringerBriefs in Philosophy,



2 Cecity as a Philosophical Insight

of questioning is what makes the opposition truly antithetical. It also makes it seem the transcendental aesthetic to be “an unfortunate embarrassment”.2 Lorne Falkenstein’s book on Kant’s intuitionalism is one of the most definitive studies of the transcendental aesthetic in the context of the eighteenth century and the one that emphasizes the strength of the metaphysical deduction of the transcendental aesthetic.3 The synthesis of intuition, whether responsible for mind’s awareness of the self, or the awareness of spatial array, is not knowledge. Lorne Falkenstein makes a good case for showing the importance of intuitions and of two-dimensional spatial array for vision, from which three-dimensionality is inferred. Something makes the space appear Euclidean. From the perspective of the eighteenth century, the representationalism directly concerns perception and the vision problem. Patricia Kitcher in her book Kant’s Transcendental Psychology correctly puts Kant in the context of the important debate of the time about which Kant says nothing. It is hard to say why he ignored the issues surrounding the Molyneux debate, as Kitcher points out. The book contains the detailed discussion of the debate and tries to show that the issues were extremely important to Kant. However, he did not directly engage in the debate. Did he feel that enough was said, the topic was settled? I would argue that he might have felt satisfied with Diderot’s thorough treatment of the issues and with his insistence on the independence of intuitions. The Molyneux argument, briefly put, concerns whether we have an ability to perceive the third dimension. More exactly, whether it is the case that, because the eye does not see three dimensions, the notion of space is something supplied by the mind. “For distance of itself, is not to be perceived; for ‘tis a line (or a length) presented to our eye with its end toward us which therefore be only a point, and that is invisible”. 4 Berkley argues that we falsely believe our images to be threedimensional. They are flat images but call up tactile images. Leibnitz opposed this view and considered that our spatial ideas are not supplied by the senses at all but stem from other sources. Our “exact ideas of geometry” are neither tactile nor visual. The same geometry manifests itself in the paralyzed and the blind. For Kant, this was the illumination that resulted in his own doctrine, according to Kitcher.5 2 Michael Friedman, “Kant’s Theory of Geometry”, The Philosophical Review, Volume XCIV, no.4,

October 1985, 455. 3 Lorne Falkenstein, Kant’s Intuitionism: A Commentary on the Transcendental Aesthetic, (Toronto:

University of Toronto Press, 1995). See for the context of this issue, Gary Hatfield, The Natural and the Normative. Theories of Spatial Perception from Kant to Helmholz, (Massachusetts, The MIT Press, 1990), Nicholas Pastore, Selective History of Theories of Visual Perceptio:1650–1950 (New York: Oxford, 1971), On Molyneux problem proper see, Michael J. Morgan, Molyneux’s Question: Vision, Touch and the Philosophy of Perception, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), as well as, for a shorter historical account of the debate, John W. Davis, “The Molyneux Problem”, Journal of the History of Ideas, Volume, 21, No. 3 (Jul–Sep., 1960), (University of Pennsylvania Press), 392–408. 4 Dioptrika Nova, 1692, quoted by Patricia Kitcher, Kant’s Transcendental Psychology, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 32. 5 Patricia Kitcher, Kant’s Transcendental Psychology, 42.

2.1 The Molyneux Debate


Historically, Kant’s complicated doctrine did not satisfy either those who saw its intuitionism untenable or those for whom it was too rationalist like Leibnitz’s theory. Vaihinger saw Kant fundamentally wrong in his argument, because he considered spatial relations impossible to be derived from the senses for the reason that vision is two-dimensional. Spatial relations cannot be gotten from the senses, which are only able to convey intensive information. Neither space nor time is met in sense. Helmholz’s criticism of Kant points out this problem too, though his difficulty with it is the opposite, as I discuss below. Patricia Kitcher reconstructs the logic of Kant’s thinking:6 “Pure” is that which the mind produces: the stable and innate laws. Form is as such pure—the result of abstraction. What is left after is Ausdehnung—Gestalt. Space as such cannot be gotten out of the senses. This is because distance, for example, cannot be registered in the visual system. However, without this information it is impossible to determine size. This is a problem with foreshortening. Thus, vision cannot supply precise information. The organ of sense is planar. It does not supply any three-dimensional information. It preserves the pairs: left/right, up/down, but not what Kant attributes to pure form, extension, size, etc. This information is unavailable to the senses. Leibnitz too held that true visual images are flat. We falsely think our images are three-dimensional. The paralyzed can learn geometry through sight. However, the blind and the paralyzed have the same geometry. Descartes held the hypothesis of natural geometry that gave importance to the distance between the eyes. Berkley considered this materialistic view to be wrong as the operated boy in the famous Cheselden experiment (it would be more proper to say, a cataract operation he performed from which much of the evidence is derived), disproved natural geometry. He could not judge distance even after the operation, as he thought everything touched his eye. Berkley maintained that vision and touch are not homogenous and thus there is no innate geometry. Leibnitz differed as he considered all objects to be represented in the same outer space, same spatial framework. Through the sense of outer space, we are able to assign all objects a definite position in space relative to other objects.7

6 Patricia

Kitcher, Kant’s Transcendental Psychology, 20 ff. in this work Kant is ascribed to have held the view of common outer sense similar to Leibnitz’s view (53–58) (figuratively, analogy is to a map, rather than to a route). It says, that space of perception is correctly described by propositions of geometry (52) and, viewed from this angle, theories such as Gibson’s (invariables) would be invalidated. Gibson theory is considered incorrect, outmoded and invalidated by this particular “Kantian” standpoint, formulated by Kitcher (72). As of Gibson perceptual theory being outdated and no longer held to be valid, one can disagree. The debate between those who adhere to Bayesian vision models (Marr’s theory, which would be more akin to this “Kantian view”) and those who share Gibson’s views, still seems to be relevant for perception theorists. This is beside the point. For the present discussion it is enough to say that the idea that Kant was a “nativist” goes back to the psychology and the space perception theory of the nineteenth century, which leaned on Kant’s a priori concept of space to support the argument against the empiricists. I discuss this in the following chapter. It seems that Diderot laid the path away from this either/or framework with his own theory of the senses, in which he also expresses the criticism of the eighteenth-century theories of perception with their reliance on Newton.

7 Thus,


2 Cecity as a Philosophical Insight

In this scheme, vision would be considered to be underspecified. This creates inverse optics problem in the sense that three-dimensional properties will not be reliably perceived, such as shape, size, location and material composition, that is, perception of qualities would be impossible (this is not about recognition of concepts, which is an operation of an entirely different order as Diderot points out). In this scheme, one must infer the state of the world from an ambiguous image. There is an ambiguous mapping between the source of retinal stimulation and retinal images. Underspecified here means that one must go beyond the information given. It is the condition that creates the veil of perception problem. 8 This is what puzzled Helmholz: to solve inverse optical problem assumptions or the prior knowledge is needed about the structure of the world and how the world structures patterns of stimulation (Euclidian regularities, laws of geometrical optics, which would take the viewer from the image back to the world). This, as James J. Gibson points out, would be the description of the perceptual world borrowed straight from classical geometry and physics, without reference to the biological functions of vision. This came to be known as inverse optics approach, that current Bayesian vision models put forward as well. This is the idea of vision as underdetermined, meaning that, there is insufficient information in the image. In order to recover a Euclidean description of the scene one must invert it. This in turn necessitates auxiliary assumptions about the world. The point-projection theory is consistent with physical optics and with the doctrine of visual sensation that seems to follow from it. The only information that the eye gets is irreducible bits of color and brightness and the rest is a matter of interpretation. Distance, the third dimension of space, is a matter of learning what the clues for distance are.9 As projectile geometry, geometrical optics explains the notion of fidelity in terms of light rays. However, this implies a lack of size and shape constancy over variation in viewing conditions, when in fact, we hardly notice the distortions. Gibson asked how it was possible that one does not see the object the way it is in sensations, yet one has a knowledge if it. Perceiver responds to the expanse of distance, appropriate texture gradient, light above, dark below. What organism sees is a surface not space; invariable is this ground surface. The invariant properties of optical flow belong to this. As James J. Gibson puts it, one eye vision is perspectival, the two eyes see “the way things are”.10 8 Zygmunt

Prizlo, “Perception Viewed as an Inverse Problem”, Vision Research 41 (2001), 3145– 3161. William H. Warren, “Direct Perception: The View from Here”, Philosophical Topics, The University of Arkansas Press,Vol.33,no.1,Spring 2005; W. H. Warren, “Marr, Gibson, and the Goal of Vision”, Perception, 2012;41 (9); 1053–1060. M.J. Braud, “The Structure of Perception: An Ecological Perspective”, vol. 2, 1, (June 2008), 123–144. Robert Shaw, John Bransford, Perceiving, Acting, and Knowing, (New Jersey,1977). As well as, Daniel R. Montello, “The Geometry of Environmental Knowledge”, Department of Geography, UCSB; Veronique Isard,” Flexible Intuitions of Euclidean Geometry in an Amazonian Indigene Group”, PNAS, May 23, 2011, 108 (24) 9782–9787. 9 The process of perceptual experience looks the same in both cases: “Interpretation depends on sensations. Hence, a picture that reconstitutes or represents the mosaic of color sensations from an external scene will arouse the same process of perception that the external scene would”. James J. Gibson, “The Information Available in Pictures,”30. 10 J.J. Gibson, “Perspective Representation”, 135.

2.2 Magnitudes: Phenomenology of the Sublime


2.2 Magnitudes: Phenomenology of the Sublime Measuring as a way of apprehending a space is at the same time describing it… —Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment.

The above quote contains all that is needed for the defense of the phenomenological reading of Kant’s doctrine of the sublime, in the sense it has been pursued here. The idea of visibility or the “visual” is itself questioned and investigated anew. This is obviously connected to the notion of the Erscheinung, and to Heidegger’s argument that Kant’s idea of disinterestedness in the Critique of Judgment is the affirmation of its existential aspect which has been, as he argues, misunderstood by Schopenhauer as well as Nietzsche.11 It is an act of confrontation, auto-affection, not of withdrawal as Schopenhauer and Nietzsche after him would insist. The suspension of desire is at issue here. This is the anti-Platonic aspect of it, as the suspension of self-interest and will, or desire. In the Platonic scheme desire is a function of any cogitative process by the degrees of sublimation. Disinterestedness, however, shows that the withdrawal is not the same as suppression or repression of the senses. Quite the contrary, the repression of self-interest liberates the senses and affirms the encounter with the other (being).12 In the light of the distinction between the direct perception and inverse optics, Kant discussion of mathematical and dynamic sublimes, where the dynamic sublime is constituted by the aesthetic unity, that is, by what is given to us aesthetically, can be understood as a demonstration of the nature of direct perception. He claims that ultimately all estimation of the magnitude of objects of nature is a “visual estimation” (Nach dem Augenmasse) and this he calls aesthetic estimation “comprehension aesthetica”(CJ.,107). The difference between the mathematical and dynamic sublimes stresses the particularity of the aesthetic unity. It is about how we understand infinity. The vision is estimative as it judges magnitudes. This argument in a sense supplants the one in the First Critique (“Transcendental Judgment in General”, “Analogies of Experience”, see especially the discussion of “Anticipation” [CPR. A167]). Although it does not negate what is argued there in crucial respects it expands the discussion. We might recall that in order to get a determinate concept of how large something is we must use numbers unity of which is a quantitative measure (Mass). This difference seems to be not about intensive and extensive magnitudes but about the intensity that accompanies necessarily the apprehension of magnitude as such. This is because this apprehension (or perception) is necessarily (and obviously) 11 Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche, vol 1. Chap. 15. See, Kleist, on reading of this aspect of Kant within the frame of epoche or the Husserlian reduction, 8. 12 Reading of Kant’s this aspect within the frame of “epoche” or the Husserlian reduction of “the real being” (Guillermit) is another line of inquiry pursued by the phenomenologist that encroaches on Heidegger’s and Husserl’s readings. See Eugine Kleist and Louis Guillermit L’élucidation critique du judgment de gout selon Kant, texte etabli par Elisabeth Schwarz et Jules Vuillemin, (Paris: ¯ Editions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1986).


2 Cecity as a Philosophical Insight

auto-affective where the physical and physiological come together. Medieval thinkers demonstrated a possibility of this, as discussed above. As well, the infinite given magnitude is space, quantum, as Martin Heidegger’s reading of Kant argues. Heidegger’s conclusions regarding this aesthetic aspect of Kant is so remarkable because they are reached solely on the basis of the reading of the First Critique. Heidegger discusses the “givenness” as “auto-affection”, as he formulates it, “as the necessity of affection through the senses,… of something already extant to encounter me”.13 He calls this encounter a “forms of prefiguration” or Vorbildung, an act of “advance viewing”.14 He distinguishes between forms of intuition and formal intuition. This givenness of magnitude in infinity is space, as Heidegger sees it. These passages do not just extend the discussions in “Anticipations” on intensive and extensive magnitudes specifically, but extend the discussion of the transcendental aesthetic itself. Heidegger notes that when taste and colors are discussed as connected to finite intuition, they are not taken as qualities that are necessary conditions for us to encounter beings as extant (CPR, A28, B62/ A45). The crux of his analysis is to demonstrate how space and time are real determinations of objects, as of appearances:15 space as subjective but still a constituent of the knowledge of things as of appearances (CJ, xlii). He analyzes the optical properties of a rainbow and a raindrop.16 Heidegger points out that space and time feature as quantum, as “infinitely big” (quantum), in Kant and not Grossheit or largeness. Infinite magnitude is intuition— something, somehow immediately encountered or represented as given. This is determining for Heidegger. He characterizes this aspect of Kant, in the moment of utmost sincerity “as something not achieved either before or after Kant”. What Heidegger wanted to investigate, as at this time he saw himself within this tradition, (as he saw the project of Being and Time to be the radicalization of “this” Kant), was as he says, “the realm of the impossible, like mixing fire and water”.17 This “radical” investigation in Kant’s free power of imagination (Dichtungsvermögen) is grasping of what is ontic as a being which exists by itself. What Kant has achieved in this analysis, according to Heidegger, was to unite sensibility and intuition, as one stem of knowledge, which determines everything extant, be it psychic or physical.18 This is an original analysis of the very important part of Kant’s doctrine, and, at the same time, an expression of Heidegger’s debt to Kant, which makes it doubly interesting for understanding Kant and his place in the history of philosophy, as well as, for appreciating Heidegger as a scholar and an original thinker. Most remarkably, though, Heidegger emphatically denies to Kant this originality later in his writings. This is “the forgotten path” of Kant, to which I will turn to in the concluding notes. 13 Martin Heidegger, Phenomenological Interpretation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, translated

by Parvis Emad and Keneth Maly, (Bloomigton: Indiana University Press, 1997), 71. defined as self-affection, see Heidegger, Phenomenological Interpretation, 103 ff. 15 Ibid.,109. 16 Ibid., 82. 17 Ibid., 283. 18 Ibid., 110. 14 Intuitions

2.2 Magnitudes: Phenomenology of the Sublime


Therefore, in addition to being an original interpretation, this analysis shows a complicated relationship between Heidegger and Kant. There is also, Derrida’s reading of Heidegger, his “problem” with Heidegger which emphases, again, this reading of Kant by Heidegger, but asserts that Heidegger disregarded the role of imagination in Kant. I will refer to these interpretations in the conclusion. It is impossible to unravel this stacking doll of readings and give full justice to it. In the midst of it there is to be found Kant’s aesthetics. It stands out as extremely significant, but also fragile, when the full weight of critical philosophy is placed on it.19 Derrida himself reads Kant in his early work through Edmund Husserl, with a critical eye on this aspect of Kant that Heidegger lauds in his work. Though they might seem to be perishable comments in the light of Heidegger’s later assessment of Kant, they still present an interesting statement on what we have been discussing. I will give a short summary of this reading, because it does touch on the significant aspects of Kant’s transcendental aesthetic, although unlike Heidegger, it interprets Kant here as “Platonic”.20 It asserts that Kant’s query regarding the origins of geometry is not sophisticated enough as it does not investigate the transcendental prehistory of this act of the creation of the first ideal object. In this reading, the role of imagination is completely denied. It proposes that the Kantian approach is completely concept based. From this reading, there emerges an interesting, albeit conventional, view of the transcendental aesthetic. This is an investigation of mathematical objects as special because they are ideal—absolutely objective, rid of empirical subjectivity. In as much as it is what it appears to be and nothing else, it is the object of pure consciousness. This interpretation is in stark contrast to Heidegger’s interpretation and, in as much, serves to illustrate the radical nature of Heidegger’s aesthetic interpretation. What are the origins of these mathematical objects and of geometry and the origin of apodictic, mathematical self-evidence? What is the archeology of the first postulates? Kant has asked this question perhaps in the critique. “In a historical retrospection towards origins, Kant also evokes this mutation of transformation (Umänderung), this “revolution” which gave birth to mathematics out of some empirical “groping” in the Egyptian tradition”.21 Kant’s query is not sophisticated enough in the sense that the first geometer already possesses the concept. It is not the geometry in the act of being instituted. As a geometrical concept has revealed the freedom with respect to empirical sensibility, the construction will begin. However, this is a history of operation not of a founding. It unfolds the explicative gestures in the space of a possibility already open to the geometer. There is no concrete subject; no historical context; there is no proto-geometer. History has already created non-empirical objects 19 This intuition of our inner state (Kant, Anthropology from Pragmatic Point of View, paragraph 4),

descriptions of the intuition of ourselves and our inner state are numerous in the Kant’s text and worked out in the sublime and echoes discussions in the First Critique, (B49, A33), etc. 20 That it too seems to mask the importance of imagination. This contrdicts his later statements on Kant, as I discuss later. 21 Jacques Derrida, Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry: An Introduction, translated, with a preface and afterword, by John P. Leavey, Jr., (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989), 39. Derrida here is referring to the CPR, preface to 2nd ed., p.x. It was more “decisive” than advances made in geography—the discovery of the path around the famous Cape (of Hope)”, (Ibid. xi).


2 Cecity as a Philosophical Insight

but that is hidden for Kant. The problem seems to be that the space and time are not transcendental reality for Kant. Ideal objects are already constituted and its correlate is a constituted subject. The geometrical eidos is recognized in that it withstood the test of hallucination.22 Eidos and the ideal object preexists every subjective act as in Plato. However, if they have history they must be related to and primordially grounded in the protoidealization based on the substrate of an actually perceived real world. This analysis is inscribed within the tradition that Heidegger sought to overcome. To turn back to the eighteenth century in the light of Heidegger’s important insight about sensibility and intuition, it might become understandable why Kant did not feel compelled to engage in the Molyneux debate. He trusted his accomplishment in the transcendental aesthetic. There are other significant elisions. From Herder’s note, it seems that Kant discussed more directly aesthetic issues in the context of epistemology.23 In the following two sections, I will turn to Diderot. First, to outline his criticism of the arguments proposed in the famous Molyneux debate. He combats them on the ground that is important in the context of what we have been examining. He lashes out against the views on both sides of the debate. It is important, because Diderot offers the “third way” so to say, away from rationalist/empiricist formulation and in this sense reinstates the senses, in more direct and the similar way to Kant, as I argue. He shows the epistemological significance of this reformulation. He elevates aesthetics in an unprecedented way in this debate relevance of which could have not been gone unnoticed by Kant. Voltaire, who is convinced that by adopting the view of Berkley and Newton, whose theory of light is the scientific validation of the perceptual theory he proposes, according to Diderot, errs just as much as the idealists, by not accepting the finality of the senses—of pleasure and pain—that he defends in his Letters on the Blind. This is what (mis) leads philosophy into either skepticism or the false metaphysics and idealism. While it is easy to see what this view could have meant for Kant’s aesthetics, the second point I want to make is entirely speculative, yet very important for finding the answer to the initial question of what if any role painting might have played for the philosophy of the period. Diderot had written 22 Ibid.,

44. Johann Gotfried Herder’s notes on Kant’s pre-critical lectures, an account of a discussion is given where Kant apparently mentions beauty, ugliness, color, as instances of the idea that sensation of bodies outside us, are being merely in us. Quoted by Peter Hatfield in “Kant and Helmholz on Primary and Secondary Qualities”, in The Historical and Ongoing Debates, editor Lawrence Nolan, (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2011), 300. Overall, Kant does not comment on rationalist aesthetic tradition. He wrote and rewrote the refutation of idealism section of the First Critique. His engagement with Descartes in the First Critique is so prominent, but one can only assume that he deliberately omitted his thoughts on the Principles of Philosophy, or Passions of the Soul, in the context of the Third Critique. It is Descartes observations on the internal senses, imagination, passions, and appetites. Kant does not engage with Leibnitz either who would have been relevant to this discussion as his influence on Baumgarten’s aesthetics was considerable. The Discourse on Metaphysics, discusses particular, artistic, judgments and compares them to that of the gold assayer’s distinct knowledge. “Je ne sais quoi”, is a confused judgment, the immediate, and the result of simple sensations and is not distinct. Such judgments are irreducible. Distinctness comes from analysis. An assayer’s judgments yield knowledge of truth or falsity but not so in case of an artist. See on clear, confused and distinct ideas, Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of Enlightenment, 342. 23 In

2.2 Magnitudes: Phenomenology of the Sublime


prolifically on painting. Though to establish the connection between the Letters and his art critical writings is entirely beyond the scope of the present work, one can still argue that these writings convey the same aesthetic ideas that are expressed in his analysis of the compositional construction and the technical possibilities of the contemporary paintings he discussed. He had significant influence on Goethe’s views as well. Together his and Goethe’s writings bear witness to the process of the resolution of the theoretical paradox naturalism posed. At the same time, they show what significance this might have had for the eighteenth-century theory of perception.

Chapter 3

Dennis Diderot and the Secrete Geometry of the Living: Saunderson’s Sublime Vision

The task would not be beneath the intelligence of the best and wisest of men: to train and question one born blind would be an occupation worthy of the combined talents of Newton, Descartes Locke and Leibniz. …so there is such a thing as painting for the blind: their own skins would be the canvas. —Dennis Diderot, Letter’s on the Blind. An opthalmite with a thousand eyes but without a hand to touch would remain his entire life in Plato’s cave and would never have any concept of the properties of a physical body. —Johann Gottfried Herder, Sculpture: Some Observations on Shape and Form from Pygmalion’s Creative Dream.

Let us return to Molyneaux’s problem once more. Diderot’s Letter’s on the Blind contains the criticism of much of the eighteenth-century metaphysics and epistemology. The examination of the capacities of the eyesight is not merely an allegorical staging of the philosophical problem, but helps Diderot build his argument against the eighteenth-century epistemology. The Molyneux problem was discussed in this context. The issues primarily presented problems that were epistemological in nature as they were concerned technically with the transition from sensations to judgments. Diderot is interested in the aesthetic aspect of this process. His argument, based on the criticism of Newton’s optics and his theory of light, as well as on the criticism of the authors whose views are informed by this theory, is that the light that is interposed between us and the world, in Newton’s scheme, replaces deism, and is metaphysical. It is not materialist despite the scientific claims, and Diderot faults Voltaire for falling into the metaphysical trap himself. Diderot’s argument, on which he bases his criticism, seems to be that the sight is analogous to touch. The eye “feels” the way the skin does. This is how we can interpret cecity. If touch is sensitive for the blind, it is because it replaces the sense of sight. He seems to be implying that the eye is an equally sensuous organ. Let us examine his argument closely. William Molyneux was the author of the Dioptrica Nova (1692), an influential early eighteenth-century treatise in optics. However, the Molyneux problem is mostly

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 T. Japaridze, The Visible, the Sublime and the Sensus Communis, SpringerBriefs in Philosophy,



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known from John Locke who popularized it by quoting the letter Molyneux wrote to him (in the same year as the publication of the Dioptrica Nova) in which Molyneux posed a “jocose” question, as Locke refers to it. Molyneux was a man very much invested in the problem of the blind as his wife lost sight shortly before. Suppose a man born blind, and now adult, and taught by his touch to distinguish between a cube and a sphere(suppose)of ivory, nightly of the same bigness, so as to tell when he felt one and t’other which is the cube, which the sphere. Suppose then, the cube and sphere placed on a table, and the blind man to be made to see; query whether by his sight before he touch’d them, he could now distinguish and tell which is the globe, which the cube; I answer not…1

Locke replied to this letter, saying, “Your ingenious problem will deserve to be published to the world”. Locke inserted the problem in the second edition of the Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1693). All subsequent editions included Molyneaux’s problem. In addition, Locke imposed a further condition that the blind man makes the identification at first sight, i.e., without walking around and viewing the object from different angles. This will be important for Leibnitz. Locke answered negatively to Molyneux experiment, both the way he constructed it and to the original version proposed by Molyneux. As Cassirer notes, for Berkeley too, the Molyneux problem was important, as in his view, Berkeley’s the New Theory of Vision forms the prelude to his entire philosophy and contains all its ideas implicitly and, therefore, notes that it is nothing but an attempt at a complete systematic development and an elucidation of Molyneaux’s problem.2 Berkeley argues for the heterogeneity of sight and touch. When Diderot takes up the problem in his Letters on the Blind, he attacks the entire tradition that uses the Molyneux problem, as he sees the major epistemological flaw in it. He includes Condillac in the list as well. When we discussed this problem in the previous chapter, the context within which it was set was the latter half of the nineteenth-century psychology and the way the issue became reinterpreted during this period. Kant’s philosophy played no small part in this reinterpretation and for Heidegger as well it would have been this context at issue. The issues at stake became that of the nativism–empiricism controversy in psychology. Throughout the psychology of the period, this problem was discussed in the context of the genesis of the idea of space, where Kant was used to support the nativism view.3 We have already seen this variant of the discussion in the previous chapter. The nativists introduce the innate intuition of space, which empiricism assumes to be a redundant hypothesis. Against empiricist, nativists contend, first with the factual argument, that if animals could see depth when seeing light for the first time, humans can do the same. And 1 Quoted in John W. Davis, ‘The Molyneux Problem”, Journal of the History of Ideas, Volume, 21. Number, 3, July–September., 1960, University of Pennsylvania Press,392–408. And see also, Michael J. Morgan, Molyneux’s Question:Vision, Touch and the Philosophy of Perception: (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977). 2 Ernst Cassirer, Philosophy of the Enlightenment, 109. 3 Théodule-Armand Ribot, La Psychologie allemande contemporaine, 1879, English translation, German Psychology of today, translated by James MarkBaldwin (NewYork, 1885).

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further, that empiricists are only able to explain the visual and spatial perception in terms of tactile experience. Are they innate? This was the Molyneux problem of the latter half of the nineteenth century, which found its inspiration in Kant’s doctrine of the a priori character of spatial intuition and the transcendental aesthetics.4 As Diderot will try to show, in the context of the eighteenth century, the issue was primarily an epistemological one, involving the nature of the transition from sensation to judgment. It is within this background that Leibnitz represents the nativist idea of innate sense of space, taking on the empiricists. It is perhaps no accident, that these ideas were discussed by him within the context of the art of painting. This echoes Herder’s reference on Kant lectures mentioned above. Leibnitz, in the New Essays on Human Understanding, discusses the questions raised by Locke. By bringing in examples from painting in the familiar way we have examined already above, he criticizes what Locke takes as “evident in painting” and within this pictorial context. 5 He tries to explain why we can be taken in by a flat painting and wrongly believe what comes from the image comes from the body proper. Analyzing the mechanism of this pictorial illusion, Theophilus explains why we can be mistaken when looking at a painting. Philalethes proposes to him to look at the Molyneaux problem. Leibnitz contends that the blind have “rudiments of a certain natural geometry”.6 This idea of natural geometry is as old as Kepler and Descartes, but Diderot will give it a different twist. He will refute Voltaire’s criticism of Cartesian substantivism and his reliance on Berkeley when he argues that it is impossible for an eye to judge correctly. To go back to Leibnitz for now, to appreciate the differences expressed by the rationalist/empiricist divide that are recast in this debate, he rejects Locke and affirms that the newly sighted should be able to tell a cube from a globe by merely visually inspecting them. If they were not capable of discerning shapes, the blind man could not learn the rudiments of geometry by touch, nor could someone else learn them by sight without touch. However, men born blind are capable of learning geometry, and indeed always have some rudiments of natural geometry mostly learned by sight alone without employing touch. This is evident from the case of a paralytic for who touch is virtually denied in this case. The two geometries, of the blind and the paralyzed, must indeed ultimately rest on the same ideas, even though they have no images in common. Painting illustrates the gap between vision and perception, as a real globe is no different from a painted globe because we see things as flat (not as they are in reality but as they are in painting). However, the blind knows not by sight but by touch that bodies are three-dimensional. Pictorial illusion is a particular example of the rule that holds for vision in general. It tells us the truth about vision—that it invariably supplies us with the false and illusory image of the 4 The Molyneux problem is also one of the main sources of the theme of the blind man so popular in

18th century literature. See Marjory Hope Nicolson, Newton Demands the Muse (Princeton, 1946). Kenneth MacLean, John Locke and English Literature of the Eighteenth Century, (Yale University Press, 1936), 106. Erhardt v. Siebold, “Harmony of the senses in English, German and French Romanticism”, (P.M.L.A., 47, 1932, XLVII), 577–592. 5 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz, New Essays on Human Understanding, edited and translated Peter Remnant and Jonathan Bennett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996),137. 6 Leibnitz, New Essays on Human Understanding, vol. 2, 8.


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real. Though blind and paralytic can have the same ideas they cannot have an image in common. They can coincide in geometrical space, but their minds can never meet in the space of painting.7 How could a blind person discern the forms and figures in painting? Diderot finds an ingenious answer to this question, as well as, is able to demonstrate the implications for epistemology when the problem is formulated in this manner. He is interested in aesthetic implications. He writes that “Saunderson’s sight was in his skin. He had so exquisitely sensitive an epidermis that if a draughtsman had sketched a friend’s portrait on his hand, he would undoubtedly—given a little practice—have recognized it. …so there is such a thing as painting for the blind: their own skins serves as a canvas”.8 Remarkably, Diderot extols blindness as a means of gaining insight, philosophers might be able to mimic.9 Closer examination reveals that Diderot sides neither with Leibnitz (though he also proposes “the innate geometry”), nor is he a Cartesian substantivist, or the materialist in the sense of Berkeley and Condillac. This is evident from his criticism of Berkeley’s view via Voltaire’s reformulation. His view is that Voltaire, despite his claims, does not take materialism far enough. He takes Voltaire’s reliance on Newton’s idea of light rays to be merely interposing light between us and God and thereby only displacing Berkeley’s deism with his metaphysical view that is based on the dubious theory of light rays borrowed from Newton. With this argument, Diderot sums up his criticism of both the theory of perception and deism or metaphysics. Across the rationalist empiricist divide of the Molyneux debate, Diderot’s views stand remarkably apart. Through his critique of the dispute, he attacks the entire metaphysical tradition and epistemology. He interposes geometric common sense to contradict the views of Voltaire, Newton and Berkley. At the limit of the metaphysical speculation, where the incomprehensibility of the “workings of the world” engenders skepticism as well as deism and dogmatism, the sensual geometry comes in between the world and us. Therefore, he sees the Molyneux debate to embody the false dichotomy. To these views he juxtaposes the lucidity of the senses—the finality expressed in the feelings of pleasure and displeasure. This idea is conveyed through the palpable arithmetic of blind Saunderson who was able to teach the sighted. Diderot argues that each sense has the direct experience of the material exteriority and that the sensor is not a pure diversity. On the contrary, it is geometrically informed by each sense. This geometrical information guarantees the veracity of experience, the semblance of the exterior objects to their tactile as well as visual images. In 7 For

this topic see, Jacqueline Lichtenstein, The Blind Spot: An Essay on the Relation Between Painting and Sculpture in the Modern Age, translated by Chris Miller, (Los Angeles: The Getty Research Institute Publication Program, 2003), 66ff. 8 The Letters, 107. 9 The similarity between Immanuel Kant in Alexander Block’s poem entitled “Immanuel Kant” and Diderot’s philosopher is curiously striking and provides a good ‘illustration” of this “hypothetical, blind philosopher”. In the poem, Kant is a blind or a somnambulant dwarf. Warmed by light, he “perceives” “the transcendental aesthetic of space/time”. The poem ponders over the contradictory character of the philosopher—this blind, wrinkled dwarf/philosophical giant in “space/time”/monster (word play in Russian is on wrinkled skin/monstrous).

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the essay he argues that we need to assume the finality of the senses—the only guarantee of this verisimilitude. He builds his critique of the entire eighteenth-century metaphysics on this argument. The Molyneux problem reached France with Voltaire’s popularization of the philosophy of Newton, Locke and Berkley. Voltaire’s Elements of Newton’s Philosophy treats the Molyneux problem within the context of his discussion of Newton’s optics. The main thrust of his argument is based on the idea that geometrical rules of optics do not have a direct relationship with our sensations. Contrary to the Cartesian view, natural geometry of the organ is not sufficient to explain the phenomenon of vision. Accordingly, Berkeley’s theory of vision disproves Descartes view. This has an enormous implication for science. Newtonian physics will displace Cartesianism. However, Diderot questions the “materialism” of Newton’s argument and disagrees. He sees Newton not to be sufficiently clear in his argument. Newton’s hypothesis, according to which the light is never in contact with the body, borrowed by Voltaire, makes his theory unscientific (against his intentions, of course). It is not materialist. It supposes that the laws of reflection prohibit any direct material contact between light and body. Furthermore, it assumes the body can push and attract light but only by subjecting it to inflection, by changing its orientation, etc. There exists the accord of the eye and the phenomenon of accommodation that tries to prove the adaptation of the eye to light, but these cannot be supposed as being the necessary causes of the phenomenon of vision because of such processes as diminution and inversion. Diderot sees in Voltaire’s false materialism nothing more than the reinterpretation of Berkeley’s deism. The senses are able to furnish knowledge that is already adapted to the demands or capabilities of the subject, but without the God being its direct cause. Voltaire interposes light between God and us, making it a body that is able to act remotely. Diderot objects to the idea that organic sensations as signs do not resemble their objects and on that basis could be faulty and deceptive as the direct causes of perceptive judgments. This idea assumes that the eye is adapted to light, but beyond that, it is incapable of furnishing us with any information that can be deemed to be knowledge unless subjected to interpretation. If Diderot argues for the innate geometry, it is not in the same sense as Leibnitz. He argues, just as any organ of sense, the eye is capable of this adaptation; much like in hearing, where ear via tympanum is capable of “touching” the sound waves. It works by being sensible to physical vibrations. The eye is an organ and is different from an instrument for which it is taken. The senses have purposiveness of their own. In The Philosophy of Enlightenment, Cassirer’s view on The Letters on the Blind is that Diderot here appears to be a skeptic and a materialist at the same time, as it is Diderot’s attempt to develop the critique of the senses and, through it, a kind of radical relativism. Contrary to this view, some see Diderot defending the sensibility, the position from which he is able to develop his own unique epistemology. The view presented here follows this reading of Diderot’s Letters.10 10 See E. Martin-Haag, “Diderot ou l’inqui´ etude de la raison”, (Ellipses, 1998), “Diderot et la pens´ee

des math´ematiques “, (Kairos, VIII, 1996), 105–132., “Diderot et Voltaire, lecteurs de Montaigne: du jugement suspendu a` la raison libre”, Revue de M´etaphysique et de Morale, Sept. 1997, 365–385, as


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There are two aspects of this interpretation of Diderot that are relevant to our discussion. First is Diderot’s insistence that the eye is a sense organ like any other, and it is not either a privileged organ or lacking in the qualities that the other senses have, like touch, which is supposed to be more immediate. This is how we can understand his “blind libertine” (the theme of which we are warned in the introduction “containing passages that may offend the pious ears”). Second is that this refers equally to the “proof against the argument from design”. The sensuality of the blind engenders knowledge of forms through touch, and Diderot shows how this sensuality lies at the origin of geometry. In the Letters on the Blind (1749), Diderot evokes the tactile geometry that Saunderson invented for the purpose of teaching his students to argue for the common tactile and visual geometry. This phenomenon is demonstrated by Saunderson’s abacus, which works because the visual geometry and the tactile geometry are one. The eye can experiment by its own proper movements. This is why Diderot diminishes the importance of the Molyneux problem. He thinks this criticism of the Molyneux problem allows proving what Saunderson’s abacus had already suggested. By representing the geometric and tactile points by needles and the lines by threads stretched between these points, blind Saunderson is able to teach his unafflicted pupils. This must suppose the existence of the geometric common sense. Each organ “geometrialises” by experience and our bodily memory envelopes the multiple ideas of plans, surfaces and volumes. He also suggests that a man who sees is confronted by the same problems as the born blind who recovers vision. However, he also argues against Berkley, that the tactile experience does not come to our aid. As we look into a concave mirror, we see an image of ourselves, an image of our hand armed with a sword that we hold as if to attack. The sword seems to stick out of the mirror to pierce us and we recoil instinctively. However, we are used to this illusion and judge that the sword is pointed by us, without needing to know the laws of optics.11 Thus, the results obtained from Cheselden operations (1728), invoked by Berkeley and Voltaire, can be challenged on the ground that if a blind person, operated for the cataract, does not see anything right away, it is for the same reason that a hand must feel, exercise its plasticity, its capacity of adaptation and reception. The eye can experience on its own because it is like a hand and the retina is animated and living version of Saunderson’s abacus. To judge distances and situations, an organic experience is sufficient. The adaptation to the external object proves the existence not so much of the soul but of this object. Voltaire’s claim is that the conclusions that one can draw on the basis of Cheselden’s operation on the boy with cataract is that it demonstrates that the eye sees nothing but the colors. The first time the boy sees, he is not able to distinguish well as, I.Y. Belaval, “La Crise de la g´eom´etrisation au si`ecle des Lumi`eres,”Revue internationale de philosophie, XXI, 1952, 337–355, G. Stenger, “ La Th´eorie de la connaissance dans la Lettre sur les aveugles,” Recherches sur Diderot et l’Encyclop´edie, XXVI, 1999, 99–111. On Denis Diderot and Molyneux problem proper, see, J-B M´erian, Sur le Probl`eme de Molyneux, edited by F. Markovits, M´erian, Diderot et l’aveugle, (Flammarion, 1984). 11 Dennis Diderot, Diderot’s Early Works, translated and edited by Margaret Jourdain, (Chicago: The Open Court, 1916), 9, 64–142.

3 Dennis Diderot and the Secrete Geometry of the Living …


beyond the mass of color. The vision is not the succession of the laws of optics, and the eye needs touch to form the idea of extension. Most importantly, Voltaire asserts that we learn to see the way we learn to read and speak. We interpret the signs and decipher the language nature speaks to us. There is the illusion of immediate and involuntary judgment about distances, extensions, etc. Voltaire denies Cartesian materialism (which Diderot retains) as he claims the geometrical rules of optics do not have a direct relation to our senses. Sensation is understood as signs that do not resemble the corresponding objects. They would easily err if they were direct cause of perceptual judgments (this is an important argument for Kant’s theory of signs). Diderot asserts that on the contrary, the senses (pleasure and displeasure) are perfectly adapted to the exteriority and are the source of our “geometrical knowledge”. It is the love of the sensuous (the appreciation of firmness, curvature, smoothness, etc.), the pleasure that one takes in the experience, that engenders the formation of the geometric ideas; (“space is surface”). No living being can survive without adapting to the outer world and without being able to feel pleasure, which does not only serve biological purpose but, also, serves to satisfy the appetite for happiness, just as essential as experience and thought.12 In his Memoir de Mathematique (1748), Diderot develops similar arguments on the bases of acoustics, which illustrates the above visual experience further. If the ear is capable of sensing the pleasure and displeasure in proportions or harmony without knowing anything about Pythagorean theory, one can assume this is because the soul has the unconscious knowledge. Similarly, without having the slightest idea of geometry one can estimate the size or a distance of an object. One can conclude there is natural and “mysterious secrete trigonometry” interceding in judgments. It appears probable, the unconscious judgments precede and determine conscious ones, because the proportions can affect and influence our soul through unconscious sentiments.13 This is why, before even learning to play music a person can have sensitive or musical ear and is able to know what an octave is. For Diderot skepticism and deism go hand in hand. It is common to affirm that knowledge does not possess the ontological scope to penetrate the nature of things, that the exteriority stays hidden from us. This is the dogmatic ontology or metaphysics. However, it is wrong to say no knowledge of the nature of things is possible. The Letters inflect this perilous epistemological question about the limits of metaphysical knowledge through the theory of sensations. It is true that we are distanced from the nature of things and, one has to agree with Condillac and Berkeley, we do not perceive anything but our own self and in this sense we never “leave” ourselves. Saunderson points to the lack of insight of those who see. There is a metaphysical illusion in doctrines of Newton, Clark and Berkeley. 14 There would be no reason to prefer atheist hypothesis of Saunderson to the deism of Voltaire; the admirable spectacle of light, of the visual beauty, which leads to the finalistic belief and to the God 12 The

Letters, 69ff. Martin-Haag, “Diderot ou l’inqui´etude de la raison”, Ellipses, 1998, “Diderot et la pens´ee des math´ematiques “, Kairos, VIII, 1996, 105–132. 14 The Letters, 67. 13 E.


3 Dennis Diderot and the Secrete Geometry of the Living …

the artist, is juxtaposed to the materialism of the blind that lives in the eternal darkness. The artistic taste for the ornament and superfluous luxury that vision displays is, again, opposed to the definition of beauty by touch, which reduces everything to the utility and to the sensuous approval. Prudish morals, linked to vision, is opposed to the indifference of the blind, who does not see why cover one part of the body and not the other. Because the senses are necessarily adapted to the world of which they are part, one starts to believe that this adaptation cannot be but the effect of the providence and of the supernatural intervention. This view is supported by the whole of philosophical tradition that channels metaphysical pathos of admiration, one that extols beauty and the marvels of creation. However, we can equally assume purely material and efficient finality for the function of sight as well as the other senses, in the simple sense that they must provide us the images that are sufficiently similar to objects to assure our survival. This finality of the organs simply proves that if things in nature did not subordinate to the infinitely general law, if one hard object hurt and another did not, we would die. However, this material order of the universe is mistaken for more than what it is. The sight is especially suited to reveal this deceit, while it is recruited by us to support the illusion. But it is equally able to free us from this illusion by testing the paradox; it sees in the sky the glory of God, but it is also called upon to gaze upon something that it instinctively avoids: the spectacle of suffering, deformity, death, as Saunderson evokes his own predicament. Sight must reflect on the question of truth of its own contradictory experiences (Kant echoes this contradiction in the discussion of the sublime, as we saw). A coherent explanation of this situation can be found only by assuming that the sensible resembles the nature of things, where there reigns order as well as chaos. The sight, then, can successively or even simultaneously experience both. Diderot shows that this teleology is not necessary for life, and that, as an explanation, it has no privilege over the agreeable experience of touch. This is why the blind of Puiseaux esteems senses more than the sighted, because he finds in hearing and touch the pleasure for life. 15 Diderot takes up Molyneux to show only how trivial the debate may seem from the point of view of his aesthetics. Diderot’s writings were almost half-century-old by the time Kant wrote his Third Critique. The affinity between Diderot and Kant has been remarked before.16 Could Kant have seen Diderot as a precursor to his ideas on aesthetic sensibility? 15 See, The Kantian Subject, 116ff. In the Third Critique, in the chapter on the sublime, the attention is given to the moment (Augenblick), life (Lebemsgef‚uel) and to gleichsam Faktum of the supersensible. In this context, he also analyzes the language of this moment and as illustrations of that “unspeakable moment” he refers to sex and beauty. See, Japaridze, “Freiheit als Metapher: Die Sprache Kants”, Die Idee der Freiheit in Philosophie und Socialtheorie, (Ruhr Universitaet Bochum/Universitaet Bayreyth/Ilia Iniversitaet Tbilissi), Conference Proceedings, 2010. On Diderot, E. Martin-Haag, “Diderot ou l’inqui´etude de la raison”. 16 This unusual affinity between Kant and Diderot has been investigated. To quote just a few familiar to me, (though not directly concerned with this particular issue) are, Bryson, Scott S., “Diderot and Kant, or the Construction of ‘Truth’”, Papers on Language & Literature; September 1985, Vol. 21 Issue 4, 370. Michael Thomas Taylor, “Critical Absorption: Kant’s Theory of Taste, MLN,Vol. 124, No. 3, German Issue: Emotionality (Apr., 2009), (The Johns Hopkins University Press), 572–591

3 Dennis Diderot and the Secrete Geometry of the Living …


One can draw attention to innumerable similarities between Kant and Diderot. Each instance of this affinity warrants special scrutiny. However, what is most striking and interesting, what seems to provide an overarching reason for this affinity, is the way out of empiricist/rationalist polarity and of the concomitant issues, through aesthetics—what defines the premise of both of these undertakings. Further, both seem to be fully aware of the philosophical antecedents and reinstate the heuristic value of aesthetic experience in the tradition of the antiquity and the Middle Ages, which is also giving the senses the telos of their own. The sense experience of particulars, what beguiles the eye, expressed in admiratio or pleasure, is auto-affective. Sensing something to be delightful (beautiful) is also a perceptual experience of the type that is in conformity with what is sensed. In the search for the philosophical certainty, Diderot, the Enlightenment philosopher, travels backward from light to darkness, as Jacques Chuiellet puts it, to find it in the depth of the blind man’s soul.17 Guided by his theoretical convictions, Diderot stands apart from his contemporaries in his preferences of the art forms as well. His preference for painting over sculpture is in sharp contrast with the views of those on whose ideas purportedly he had a considerable influence.18 Sculpture was considered more truthful than painting (Winckelmann). Its superiority was guaranteed by the metaphysical insight into the ostensible hierarchy of the senses. It was taken as unassailable truth that, as Johann Gottfried Herder observed, “Sight affords us the emptiest of pleasures”…“ (it) gives us dreams, touch gives us truth”.19

and Christopher Braider’s article aptly called, “Groping in the Dark: Aesthetics and Ontology in Diderot and Kant”, Word& Image, 29:1, 2013, 105–127. 17 Jacques Chuillet, La formation des idées esthétiques de Diderot, 1745–1763 (Paris: Armand Colin 1973), 141. 18 See Jacqueline Lichtenstein, The Blind Spot: An Essay on the Relation Between Painting and Sculpture in the Modern Age, 65. 19 Johann Gotfried Herder, Sculpture: Some Observations on Shape and Form from Pygmalion’s Creative Dream, trans. and ed. Jason Gaiger, (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2002) Notes, 38. See also, The Blind Spot, 37.

Chapter 4

Diderot: An Art Critic–Between Honesty and Fidelity

Deux qualities essentielles a l’artiste, la morale et la perspective. —Dennis Diderot, Pensées détachées sur la peinture.

Among the authors we have been considering, Diderot and Goethe were the ones especially interested in the art of painting. Both have dedicated innumerable critical writings to the issue of art and prolifically commented on their contemporary artists. It is well known that Diderot exercised considerable influence over Goethe.1 There is a feature of Diderot’s critical writings on painting that is particularly interesting in the context we have been examining. In his salon writings, Diderot, an art critic this time, explores the relation between the beholder and its object that he takes to be the key theme within the contemporary painting. In Diderot’s interpretation, this preoccupation seems to determine even the thematic choices of paintings of the period. The relationship itself seems to be an intrinsic attribute of the moral message these paintings are conveying. The authenticity of the visual experience mirrors the candor expressed in them. Crucially, it was the technical possibilities within the compositional construction that was considered by Diderot to enable the expression of the complicated relationship of the beholder and beheld, and the one that was considered to be the most genuine, both technically as well as thematically. For Goethe, Dorian austerity, expressed by starkness of geometrical forms, was able to convey what represented the most primordial and, therefore, the most aesthetic. By this Goethe was expressing the general trend that favored the archaic, “the noble simplicity and its calm grandeur”, and sought this in the specific style of rudimentary linear paintings (Winkelmann’s “precision of Contour”) characteristic of the ancients as well as of the “innocent mood” of the early Italian schools (Goethe). These characteristics of the neo-classicism are well known, and Kant is also generally credited for the language within which they were legitimized, especially the latter trend. Outline drawings were thought to have been the earliest means of pictorial representation—and the pictures of the invention of painting by a Corinthian potter’s 1 Roland

Mortier, Diderot en Allemagne (1750–1850) (Paris, 1954), 305–318.

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4 Diderot: An Art Critic–Between Honesty and Fidelity

daughter who drew her lover’s profile by tracing his shadow on the wall to serve as a permanent reminder during his absence—were most popular. In this genre, this kind of outline drawings of portraits was produced in the Neo-classical period in their simplest and most popular form as the countless silhouettes, colored in matt black paint or cut out of paper.2 In addition to being the “antique style, par excellence, the linear style was thought to be the purest and most natural”…simplicity was not just “the noblest ornament of truth” but “the essential attribute of truth” writes Hugh Honour, and continues: “The moral basis underlying this aesthetic preference was often made quite explicit, as by Schiller in his reported comments on the paintings in the Dresden Gallery: ‘All very well if only the cartoons were not filled with colour…I cannot get rid of the idea that those colours do not tell me the truth…the pure outline would give me a much more faithful image’. And in this Spartan attitude the Neo-classical artist had the support of Kant who stated (Kritik der Urteilskraft, 1790) that drawing alone, even unshaded outline, sufficed for the true representation of an object: color was superfluous. Indeed, color came to be thought deceptive. It masked the purity of essential forms, just as clothes disguised and disfigured the human body”.3 I will explain further on why these themes are crucial. Beyond this juxtaposition of color and line, there is another important feature that seems to have been crucial in unsettling representative techniques of the period. In fact, one can argue that, in the first place, it was on the basis of this feature that it became possible to ascribe the value to cartoon drawings. The exploration of perspectival illusionistic elements was also the process of their gradual displacement. Michael Fried’s study explores how the age-old truth about painting, that it is the actualization of the beholder and that it is made to attract and hold and enthrall, had been challenged in “the age of Diderot”. What could be considered as one of the most important “subversions” in the history of painting took place, according to him, with the start of the reaction against the Rococo and the advent of David in French painting between the early 1750s and 1781.4 Most importantly, he reconstructs the issues faced by the painters of this period, through Diderot’s eyes, and through the themes Diderot explored in his salon writings. Published by Melchior Grimm, with a limited number of subscribers (but influential persons among them) throughout Europe, these texts comprise the critical writings about contemporary art and artists, among them David, who were active throughout the nineties. David’s “Homer” works, most illustrative of the changes discussed here, belong to 1794.5 Michael Fried, on the bases of Diderot’s observations of the compositional features of the paintings he analyzes, comes to the conclusion that the technical means of expressing (in the painting itself) the “as if” absence of the beholder overlaps with 2 Hugh

Honour, Neo-Classicism (Penguin Books, 1977), 113, 114. David Irwin, Neoclassicism (London: Phaedon Press, 1977), 143. 3 Hugh Honour, Neo-classism, 114. 4 Michael Fried, Absorption and Theatricality (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980), 5ff. 5 Thus, it is probable that Kant had access to them.

4 Diderot: An Art Critic–Between Honesty and Fidelity


Diderot’s analysis of the process of depiction of authenticity—and the expression of the truth in painting. He offers a compelling analysis of how these two elements of the pictorial representation converge. What Diderot extols takes place, according to Fried, when the observer’s position is subverted within the composition of painting. For Diderot, a picture achieves its authenticity when it is a representation of the state of affairs that formally cannot be subjected to observation. He talks about entering the picture, being “inside it” and shames the act of beholding as an act of voyeurism. The “blindness” theme so prevalent in the period is a perfect means to express this absorption—the means to juxtapose the authentic expression to the artificial setup of the scene that destroys the very essence of painting. The belief that the awareness of the audience destroys the meaning of the (moral) message, and that one must undo the theatrical spectatorship that informs the painting—the subject beholding the object—is one of the main themes in these writings to which both the analysis of the compositional construction of painting and the analysis of its theme are dedicated. Fried demonstrates how this “absence” is achieved in the composition technically. In numerous examples, which unfortunately cannot be discussed in detail here, he shows how the compositions of these paintings are constructed to achieve the effect of the negation of presence. It is achieved by rotating the perspectival axis of the paintings. This way, the object of painting becomes hidden. What yields to the temporal interpretation of the execution of a painting, to the opening to the gaze an instantaneous moment of a situation, is the depiction of a moral object. However, the gaze is complicated, and its complex nature is expressed both by technical means and also, thematically, by depicting blindness, obliviousness to the view, loneliness, etc. Diderot talks about the expression of the authenticity of the gaze that captures and asserts what is and takes place in an instant—is true in this particular instant. It is the objective—the “is” of the moment. The absolute requirement of this occurrence is that it must fully elude the subjectivisation of the gaze, or the subjugation to the beholder’s view. By negating the fixed point of the gaze, the alienation of the beholder is achieved. Often, only by establishing the fiction of the absence or of nonexistence of the beholder that the actual placement of this figure before the painting is secured thematically depicted as a figure of voyeur, or of a blind, for instance. In painting, hiding from the gaze, escaping the gaze is made possible only under the gaze. Accordingly, it seems that painting thus expresses the conviction that the exposition of this theoretical paradox is also the means of solving it. Thematically, in growing numbers, the works of art that were to teach a lesson in virtue (exemplum virtutis) began to dominate an iconographical choice of the period and gave rise to the “école de moeurs”.6 The pervasive moralizing tenor was concomitant with the evolving technique. David’s Belizarius composition (discussed by Diderot in the Salon of 1781) is organized in the off-center perspective structure. This technique had been in use from the fifteenth century, to translate the principle action away from the main axis (that of the vanishing point) as a means of slowing the viewer’s grasp of what is taking place 6 Robert

Rosenblum, Transformations in Late Eighteenth Century Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), 55, 93.


4 Diderot: An Art Critic–Between Honesty and Fidelity

in the composition and thus heightening the impact of the composition known as the technique of Papillotage. (See also the discussion of this at the end of the chapter in the context of Michel Foucault’s analysis of las Meninas.) As Fried argues, in David this off-center is not simply to avoid the monotony of a central vanishing point as in the Renaissance paintings, but to place the beholder somewhere else, at the expense of the illusion, taking extreme measures to place the beholder away from the gaze and the object of beholding.7 During this period and immediately after, the theme of the “purity” of the representation was carried further by technical means which did away entirely with the illusory point of view. In this spirit, Goethe turns to Dorian austerity, to its geometric simplicity, as to the primordial and aesthetic—features he extols in “Polignots Gemaehlde in der Lesche zu Delphi”. Polygnotan painting, as “a purer, nobler and more chaste”, more essential in its form, is to be so not despite but because its “deficiencies in sophisticated illusionistic techniques”. Goethe compares it to the early Quattrocento paintings in this regard.8 As Robert Rosenblum states, the tendency for this “regression in taste” and the search for the “tabula rasa” in ancient art is manifest in David’s admiration for the “Etruscan vases” and for the Greek bas-reliefs—the style that seem “more ancient” to him and therefore more “genuine”. David’s Greekstyle culminates in the Sabines of 1799. Rosenblum points out how David “corrects” the over display of anatomical precision in his earlier work on the same theme with a more archaic style. This artistic reform was pervasive. As Goethe, David also admired Polygnotus and the Italian primitives, and most importantly, his regard for Flaxman’s linear and planar compositions (especially his illustrations of the Illiad, which accommodate the absolute flatness of the surfaces) is well known. To quote Robert Rosenblum, “In fact, from the 1750s on, beginning with the new investigation of the encaustics of ancient paintings, progressive artists often regressed to archaic pictorial techniques that reflected a common repugnance for the illusionistic propensities of the oil medium”.9 This tendency toward the linear and planar eventually became entirely decorative, allowing the application of gold leaf, an ultimate Byzantine “anti-illusionistic archaism”. ∗ ∗ ∗ Optical geometry that appeals beyond itself to the primitive substratum of perceptual experience constitutes the ground of all theoretical and practical life. —Edmund Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology.

7 Ibid., 8 Ibid., 9 Ibid.

157. 187.

4 Diderot: An Art Critic–Between Honesty and Fidelity


We have come to the point where the initial question regarding the relationship between art and the classical episteme in the context of Michel Foucault’s seminal claim at the end of The Order of Things can be placed under closer scrutiny. His idea that in the examples from the history of painting we can discern what defines the classical episteme rests on the hypothesis that representation is constructed through the perspectival paradigm and had become so pertinent that it defines the classical episteme. To illustrate the workings of the system of representation that functions as the foundation of thought in the classical age he uses the compositional arrangement of Velasquez’s Las Meninas. Characteristic of it is an elision of the subject for the sake of the “purity” of representation. According to Michel Foucault, the analysis of the composition demonstrates that the fundamental condition for representation is missing in the composition—it is suspended, undecided and uncertain (douteux). It is a depiction of an elision. The gaze flutters (“papillote”) over the composition. Papillotage, an attention dispersing effect known since the Renaissance, is a technique to which Diderot refers to in much the same way. For Diderot, the delay in apprehension of the composition that this technique created, for earlier painters, as well as for his contemporary painters, was there to “break the surface” of the painting, to make it possible to “enter” it and, by overcoming the illusory point of view, to create an authentic experience for the viewer.10 It seems that Foucault might be reading the composition in much the same way, as for him it reveals that the arrangement creates the painting’s “calculated discrepancy between a painting’s geometric organization and its imaginary structure” (Hubert Damisch). The “witness” in the painting (who bears the same name as Velasquez) and the author seem to be two figures and between them, there is the mirror that is the painting’s imaginary center. This is the analysis of the complicated composition of Las Meninas that Hubert Damisch offers via Foucault’s equally complicated commentary. It is a composition that sets up a “trap” for an interpreter. “As often happens, the apparent rigor of its construction obscures a trap—an especially perverse one in this case because it exploits the constitutive prejudice of the system, namely, the assumption that perspective assigns the spectator a place at the start, or rather at the origin of the ‘view’ proposed by the painting, directly in front of the point toward which its receding lines converge”.11 This is a trap, as Damisch points out, that the commentators, like

10 Dennis

Diderot, Pensées détachées, 800, in Oeuvres esthétiques, ed. Paul Vernière (Paris, 1966). See also, Michael Fried, 87. 11 Hubert Damisch, The Origin of Perspective, 431.


4 Diderot: An Art Critic–Between Honesty and Fidelity

Searle and others who have criticized Foucault, have fallen into.12 What is interesting in Hubert Damisch’s analysis of Foucault’s approach for the present reading, is that, according to Damisch, Foucault himself does not provide a clear analysis of this duality; he just points to the missing element: the painting’s center is missing but there is a search for this missing element, the gaze is looking for it.13 Thus, he uses painting merely as an illustration of the complexity of presenting that which is ultimately elided. Damisch’s argument is that painting does not yield the simplified schema that it promises (that is, the geometrical one only). On the contrary, this schema is in his words “a complicated construction” in painting, as it is both imaginary and geometrical. My understanding of Damisch’s claim is that this complexity accounts for its highly theoretical premise, something that Foucault missed or did not develop sufficiently. Foucault does not seem to propose a theory to back up this claim. He just claims that by resorting to the pictorial examples we may gain access to the classical episteme.14 The exact meaning of this declaration is difficult to appraise because of Foucault’s “hesitation”, according to Damisch, with regard to the precise relationship that might exist between thought and painting proposed by the analysis. He does not propose a theory, he merely shows by example of Las Meninas that the structure of the composition of this painting expresses the fact that the representation within it is complicated and this is supposed to demonstrate the pertinence of art in the genesis of classical episteme. According to Damisch, Foucault uses art as merely illustrative, to explain the presupposition of this relationship. From the point of view of the present examination, it is quite apparent that naturalism had wrestled with the theory of perceptual experience, beyond painting, as well as within, and had tried to solve the problem of representation. It confirmed in practice that the perception could not be defined by the subject as a geometrical reference point within the mathematical space that it creates, or that such perceptual principle might be the only one that governs visual relations within pictorial art. The technique of representation seems to have evolved with the elaboration of this theoretical concern. The hypothesis proposed here, on the reading of Kant and Diderot, is that there was an awareness of this aesthetic theory of vision even later and in the eighteenth century specifically; to what extent is difficult to say, but we made an attempt to demonstrate its relevance in the present context. Thus, Foucault’s 12 These issues have been commented on extensively from various perspectives. It would be impossible to give justice to them all—the task obviously well beyond the means of this analysis. The reference is to the well-known article by John Searle that reviews Michel Foucault’s claim that Las Meninas “represents” classical representation. He objects to the idea of the elision of the subject as such. For the elision to be taking place, the object of this elision (the subject) initially must have been posited. However, it is not, it is claimed by Searle and, therefore, the painting cannot represent anything other than itself, as being the scene. Damisch on the other hand, sees the error of this interpretation in that it works with the illusionistic assumption, because it wrongly fixes the perspectival axis, only to fall in the trap set up by Velasquez himself, that is, he does not see the deliberate “ambiguity” of the composition and fails to do justice either to Foucault’s interpretation or the intentions of the painting itself. John Searle, “Las Meninas and the Paradoxes of Pictorial Representation, “Critical Inquiry, volume 6, number 3 (Spring 1980), 447–488. 13 Hubert Damisch, The Origin of Perspective, 159. 14 Ibid.

4 Diderot: An Art Critic–Between Honesty and Fidelity


analysis situated within this tradition, would be relevant by bringing it out as one of the defining moments of modernity. Lacan no less enigmatically states that a painting (tableau) represents “the relation through which the subject comes to find its bearings as such”.15 In this scheme, the relation of the self to painting is considered to be similar to the relation of the self to a mirror. The indomitable aspect of this process provides a theoretical basis for asserting the elision (of the subject). In fact, from this angle, it could also be understood as a process of its constitution, as an act of mirroring or redoubling taking place in the imaginative synthesis or mimesis, the process that “precedes” the subject, the state that is “not yet the subject”, but is constitutive of it. The other, the image, split the self, doubles it, as it also constitutes it as a double. Crucially, it is in this sense that the art of painting and aesthetics, or the affective in general, might stand for the sense-conditionality as the constitutive aspect of this process.16

15 Jacques

Lacan, “La Science et la verite”, Ecrits (Paris, 1966), 855–877, not present in English translation of Ecrits. Also, Jacques Lacan, Le Seminair XI, Les quatre concepts fondmentaux de la pshychanalyse (Paris, 1973), 81. English translation by Alain Sheridan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis (New York and London, 1978), 87. 16 I approach it as an element in the process of the constitution of subjectivity. For the discussion of this process see, Chap. 2, in the Kantian Subject: the Sensus Communis, Mimesis, the Work of Mourning.


…Und es neigen die Weisen Oft am Ende zu Schönem sich. —Friendrich Hörderlin, Socrates und Alcibiades.

The Reception of the Third Critique “On the Continent” For the post-Kantian philosophy Kant provided a broad canvas on which to paint. Nevertheless, it can be argued that one way to understand the course the history of the reception of the Third Critique had taken is by seeing it as determined by Hegel’s ambivalence toward it and toward art and aesthetics in general. Whether it was through his direct comments or his general take on aesthetic s, he had a determining influence on the post-Kantian opinion of the work. Hegel argued, in a systematic attempt to “re-appropriate” the work for the project of German Idealism, that it cleared the way to his own speculative philosophy in as much as it ushered the demise of critical philosophy. This was obvious, he argued, in that Kant in the Third Critique tried but failed to realize that ultimate dialectical turn toward speculative philosophy. These claims against Kant parallel his constant dirge on art. This work seems to have troubled him as it perhaps encapsulated more than any other the exigencies of his philosophy—Kant ne s’hégélianise pas, as Alexandre Kojève puts well.1 It is only reasonable to assume, then, that those who were against Hegelian sublation, this seemingly profitable perfidy in the name of all philosophy, might have turned to Kant (with, some might even say, undue leniency) and especially to the “aesthetic” Kant. But, of course, even without this ambivalent dynamic, there is another troubling issue for Kant interpretation. As it is also the case in the history of philosophy Kant stands out as one of the main figures responsible for the oppressive shape of subjectivity (with or without Hegel’s interpretative exaggerations). So, it is indeed not easy or entirely straightforward to argue for this “other” Kant that can 1 Alexandre

Kojève, Kant (Paris: Gallimard, 1973), 11.

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 T. Japaridze, The Visible, the Sublime and the Sensus Communis, SpringerBriefs in Philosophy,




be read “against” Hegel or the one who initiated the aesthetic turn. This is the Kant Heidegger so cautiously speaks of. Because of such interpretative difficulties and in order to ultimately argue for the philosophical “tropism” that had indeed taken place, I thought it is necessary to conclude the discussion by reviewing the appraisals of Kant’s philosophy that emphasize its aesthetic and thereby—its radical features. In broad terms, a subtle yet unequivocal praise for Kant’s lasting contribution is a reference to Kant who is able to impart fundamentally anti-subjectivist view through the idea of the aesthetic autonomy. Heidegger urged his readers to try to understand Kant better than Kant understood himself; admittedly not an entirely straightforward task for interpretative analysis. In his early writings on Kant, the painstaking work was undertaken to show this other side of Kant, which for him was not just the other side of Kant, but represented the origin of radically “other” philosophy. Thus Heidegger takes up Kant in “difficult times for himself” as he says, which coincides with the period of working out the ideas of Being and Time, only to deny him the innocence of admiration later: he says that Kant forgets this “correct path”. Hannah Arendt tries to overthrow Hegelian Absolute with a single sentence, as she quotes Kant: “the pleasure and displeasure constitute the absolute”.2 The reference in spirit is obviously to be found in Kant’s Critique of Judgment. She considers it to be a radical departure from his initial approach that his later works go on to treat the idea of human being as “this one on earth”, as temporal. Though this approach might seem deflationary as being “anthropological”, it is singularly apposite, as we shall see further. Similarly, for Theodor W. Adorno, Kant eventually comes to terms with the aporetic character of reason. Thereby he dismantles more conceited view that he might also have held in regard to the omnipotence of thought. In the same spirit, the reinterpretation of Kant’s antinomy, as the tragic dualism of the ethical within the post-Kantian philosophy, is imbued with aestheticism. This picture of Kant is perhaps too fragile to be convincing or to be depicting a philosopher with a single voice, one giving a precise direction to philosophy at a certain historical moment. This is not the assumption made in the sample of views presented. However, these writings lend legitimacy to the idea that the same overarching aesthetic informs both the First and the Third Critiques. This, in turn, would justify the aesthetic rereading of Kant. The view challenges the hierarchy of these Critiques.

Hegel: German Idealism The unification we are looking for seems to lie much deeper in the realm of the impossible than the attempt to mix fire and water. —Martin Heidegger, Phenomenological Interpretation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.

2 Hannah Arendt, Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy, edited and with an Interpretive Essay by

Ronald Beiner (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 25. I. Kant, Gesamtsausgabe, 18:11.



To underline again, Hegel’s influence on the reception of the Third Critique seems to be the most lasting and considerable albeit perhaps the most self-serving. Most significantly, Hegel’s attitude also reveals the problem facing Post-Kantian philosophy in regard to aesthetics right after Kant. Let us look at it more closely. Hegel saw the importance of this critique and, as his writings show, he either gave it a characteristically un-Kantian twist or had claimed to have taken upon himself to accomplish its legacy—his philosophy would act as Telephus’ spear to heal the fissure created by the double-headed monster of critical philosophy! Henceforth, the value of the Third Critique would consist merely in its promise of synthesis, which it was unable to make “true and actual”. Only through this promise, it won itself the foremost place at the foundation of speculative philosophy and thereby sowed the seeds of the destruction of its own philosophical foundation: as the first treatise of speculative philosophy, it also turned out to be the last one of critical philosophy. In Hegel’s opinion, its positive aspect was that it “sets forth a rhythm of knowledge, and of scientific movement”. However, it fails in its effort to establish at last the unity of the Idea. It is no more than a good introduction to philosophy. He will start here where Kant failed. Perhaps it is this assessment that is partially responsible for the fact that the Third Critique has come down to us with the gravity of the failed project.3 As for the aesthetic project proper, it was not Kant but Schiller in Hegel’s view, to strip Kant of all the credit, who succeeded in actualizing what Kant merely intimated. In Hegel’s words, Romanticism had “broken through Kantian subjectivity…having dared to move beyond it”, but of course he credits his own philosophy for carrying this process through the end in the Lectures on Aesthetics. On the Aesthetic Education of Man Schiller arrives at his own aesthetic imperative that should overcome the ugliness of Kant’s one: “Es soll ein Schönheit sein!” The blame for the disastrous exchange (“Schlimmer Tausch”) between sentiments and rationality was laid on the transcendental method itself, because it “falls into thinking material things as nothing but an obstacle”.4 Likewise, Hegel considered that the impotence of this project was the direct consequence of the blueprint of Kantian philosophy as a whole. If Kant’s aesthetic project was doomed from the beginning it was because of the general flaws inherent in the transcendental method itself. Hegel goes even further in his Aesthetic Lectures and 3 G.W.F. Hegel, The History of Philosophy, vol. 3, trans. E.S. Haldane and Frances E. Simson (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1968) 472ff. See also The Kantian Subject, 45. 4 Friedrich Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man, translated by E. Wilkinson and L. Willoughby (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967), 87ft. It must also be said that, it was Schiller who had given to the aesthetic project its most un-Kantian mark. In the On the Aesthetic Education of Man the rift between the sensuous and the rational was to be recast into the historical progression from necessity to freedom and one which was extended from the configuration of the individual faculties discussed in Kant to the history of human race itself. This rather alien view to Kant postulated the transcendental as the historic culmination of the aesthetic idea. The entangled history of the relationship between art and philosophy at the time is epitomized in Schiller’s enouncement that art is “the only true and eternal organ and document of philosophy, which always and continuously documents what philosophy cannot… “the aesthetic alone is the whole in itself” quoted in Daniel O. Dahlstrom, “The Aesthetic Holism of Hamann, Herder, and Schiller”, in German Idealism, edited by Karl Ameriks (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 88.



assesses the practical reason in the context of aesthetics. In his view, the subjective nature of judgment and the production (of art), makes “abstract endlessness of rationalization, that duty of duty’s sake, that formless intellectualism, which apprehends nature and actuality, sense and feeling, as just a barrier, just contradiction of it and hostile”. In addition, “the ethical law appears to be ugly and repulsive and in its sterility contrary to aesthetic sense”. 5 Though then he goes on to assert: “Art has ceased to be the highest need of the spirit”.6 In this context, his notorious pronouncements about the death of art seem to stand out as barren—it might be asked, beyond this double vehemence directed toward Kant and art what his genuine assessment of the relationship between the two might have been, and whether or not it was the strength of this relationship, rather than the weakness, that he might have regarded as truly threatening to his project. It is apparent that Hegel’s influence had extended well beyond his immediate successors. As an example, the ardent critic of Hegel (as well as Kant), Friedrich Nietzsche repeats the same complaint, even though, unlike Hegel, he very well understood the significance of the aesthetic, the way Kant intended it, as an autonomous faculty. Nietzsche noted the tension embodied within the structure of the psyche. He is deeply suspicious of it. His “conjecture” (“for the depths of such subterranean things are difficult to fathom, besides being painful…”) concerning morbidity (Grausamkeit) of “old Kant’s categorical imperative” is Hegelian. The one-sided subjectivity is exacerbated by aestheticism as it yields extraordinary counterbalancing pleasure of making suffer (“a genuine festival”). The eerie intertwining “of suffering of pleasure and pain” with moral categories was first effected and (“now they may well be inseparable”) through certain balance that loss (repression) as such dictates…“to ask again: to what extend can suffering balance debt and guilt (Schulden) (…to the extent that to make suffer was in the highest degree pleasurable…) with the loss …?”7 This etiology of morality, so deeply buried in the subterranean depth of the psyche, is correctly Kantian, though the interpretation might be Hegelian. These “psychic” problem noted by Nietzsche is important. The Nietzschean idea survives in certain psychoanalytic interpretations of Kant as well. Jacques Lacan demonstrates the logic of desire, the logic of this surfeit or the overflow of desire into the affective, aesthetic, domain and sees the equation of desire with appetites as one of its pathologies.8 I have treated these issues in more detail elsewhere. What I would like to point out here is merely the fact that the “Hegelianism” of the interpretation of this critique was influential, something that the post-Kantian philosophy had to grapple with, as many commentators point out. Hegel’s view ultimately was neither accurate nor favorable. It merely points to the importance of the issue of aesthetics at the time—be it 5 G.W.F.

Hegel, Hegel’s Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, translated by T. M. Knox (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), 61. 6 G.W.F. Hegel, Werke, Volume XVIII (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp), 141f. 7 Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, translated by W. Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale (New York: Random House 1967), 65. 8 Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book VII, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959– 1960, translated by Dennis Porter (New York: Norton and Company, 1992. Also see, Gilles Deleuze, Coldness and Cruelty (New York: Zone Books, 1991).



suppressed or valorized. Thus, the fact that it is only through its negative impact that the Third Critique became embodied in the foundation of German Idealism speaks volumes about this aesthetic project. J.M. Bernstein notes, “…for many of the generation of philosophers following Kant, his failure here was a clue to the failure, the wrong turning, of the Critical programme itself”.9 The dissatisfaction produced by the rift between philosophy and art (purportedly the result of this failed project) was palpable. As Friedrich Schlegel quipped, in the philosophy of art as a rule it is either art or philosophy that is missing. Dennis Schmidt identifies the Kantian influence on the post-Kantian development. It might be understood that, despite the dominance of “Hegelianism”, Kant’s influence showed in that, the post-Kantian predicament of the tragic conflict is actually the expression of the Kantian antinomy. “The Kantian background can be defined in three essential aspects. First, the tragic conflict is now presented as mirroring the antinomy of reason as it is unfolded in the CPR. (here is the third antinomy between freedom and nature that plays a special role). Second, the recuperation of the work of art for the task of comprehending ethical life is owing to the dignity granted to aesthetic experience in the CJ. And third, by reinvigorating the notion of the sublime Kant created a place for the philosophical discussion of the monstrous and the sacrifice which are so central to Greek tragedy…”10 To be sure, there is a Hegelian way of looking at the tragic conflict between what is and what ought to be expressed in the work of art, which would be tragic only from the perspective of the philosophical exigency of unity and synthesis (reconciliation) and also thus, essentially, anti-aesthetic. Hegel’s wish for it to go away is rather father Sergius like logic which would rather cut off the aesthetic in order to smooth over the conflict (as he perceives the aesthetic at the origin of this conflict). The Greek ethical life finds its tragic end. Saunderson’s philosophical vision which casts a redemptive lucidity over the unassailable forces that make up our lives without offering a solution for overcoming these necessary forces seems indeed to be more Kantian in its essence. This lucidity is redemptive because it is anti-illusory. Hans-Georg Gadamer’s view of the philosophical Platonism as generally a hostile framework within which the problematization of aesthetics has been taking place is also a good overarching context to assess the Kantian project. “Only when philosophy and metaphysics got into crisis in relation to the cognitive sciences did they discover again their proximity to poetry which they had denied since Plato….Since then it makes sense to acknowledge the autonomous claims to truth of literature, but this takes place at the price of an unexplained relationship to the truth of scientific knowledge”.11 As well, the Platonic suppression of the aesthetic was interpreted by the philosophers I mention as a far-reaching problem that led to a philosophical dead-end. The rereading of Kant by Adorno, Arendt and Heidegger shows the way to 9 Jay

M. Bernstein, The Fate of Art: Aesthetic Alienation from Kant to Derrida and Adorno (University Park: The University of Pennsylvania State Press, 1992), 6. 10 Dennis J. Schmidt, On Germans and Other Greeks (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000), 75. 11 Hans-Georg Gadamer, Aesthetic und Poetik I. Kunst als Aussage.



turn this crisis around. To “find in Kant an advocate” was essential to this rereading, as Heidegger puts it. This aesthetic turn had made a deep mark on the modern philosophical reflection on the continent for which the credit can indeed be given to Kant.

Martin Heidegger: Imagination and the Aesthetic Turn of Philosophy …We shall deal with this riddle as the riddle of fallenness, the building site of care and temporality. —Martin Heidegger, Phenomenological Interpretation.

Heidegger turned to Kant in “difficult times” to take “refuge” in his philosophy and for its salving effect. These are his words. This therapeutic effect soon faded but still this heartfelt avowal is quite fascinating. In regard to what interests us, in regard to his theoretical concerns, mixed in with this autobiographical candor, a picture emerges of Kant, who might stand nearest to Heidegger with his most radical ideas regarding the “impasse” philosophy has reached, and the possibility of its overcoming. In Heidegger’s view, the rule determined thinking, the subject’s capacity to structure and imposes its own framework on being, had brought philosophy to its end. The extreme manifestation of this phenomenon is an assumed completion—Vollendung—of philosophy. It turned out to lead it rather more to the dead-end than to its apotheosis. If, according to Heidegger, aesthetics and the sphere of art enable philosophy to find a “new way” of thinking, this means two things that, this type of thinking is not endemic to philosophy, that at its origin philosophy is not “conceptual work of framing”, and that the reversal is always possible. He also seems to be implying that Vorstellung (representation) is the essential element in the process of the subsumption, at the origin of this false start for philosophy. What would be the remedial significance of aesthetics within this framework? Heidegger focuses on the synthesizing capacity of pure intuition and imagination as he is convinced of its utmost significance for Kant and, yet, considers its role to be misunderstood. He proposes to read “with Kant” in order to unravel the aspects of pure intuition not just for Kant but for the whole of philosophical enterprise. He points out that the difficulties and misunderstandings of interpreting begin with “the unresolved issue of the place of the power of imagination within Reason”.12 The difficulty with this particular problem was evident, according to Heidegger, from the First Critique on, namely, with the treatment of schematism (as we can recall in the Introduction Cassirer too speaks of this feature in Kant) but Kant left it unresolved. If 12 Martin Heidegger, Kant and Problem of Metaphysics, translated by R. Tuft (Bloomington: Indiana

University Press, 1990) xv, and Phenomenological Interpretation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, translated by Parvis Emad and Keneth Maly (Bloomigton: Indiana University Press, 1997), 4. See also, “Kants these ‚uber das Sein” (1961), Gesamtausgabe, Band 9, Wegmarken (Vittorio Klostermann, 1996), 446, where he finds “refuge” in Kant, this time against Marx.



we take Heidegger’s insight to be true, then it was not so fortuitous that Kant tried to complete his trilogy on reason with the aesthetic treatise, i.e., to try to finally resolve the problem of the place of imagination. It also appeared “suddenly”, as he says, and seems to have faded just as speedily. This is an important point—just how much this feature was placed by Kant himself “under erasure”, so to say? Was it Kant who “recoiled” from this path or was it the interpreters themselves, like Heidegger, etc.? Heidegger seems to step back from his initial enthusiasm regarding Kant’s radicalism. Certain suppressed themes in philosophy gave rise to the need for Kant to go where he had gone, but lost his way, according to Heidegger. Heidegger’s position is that Kant indeed embarked on a groundbreaking path, albeit very briefly. He took the “right direction” and evinced a non-metaphysical solution to the question of the subject by bringing to the fore the problematic nature of imagination within the architectonic of reason. This is manifest precisely at points that are most crucially set in terms of the Third Critique and the Heideggerian “radical reworking” of metaphysics. The radicalism of Kant is hinted more than once in the areas of pure sensibility— transcendental aesthetic and schematism. Nevertheless, Heidegger never engages with the Third Critique directly. Why such reticence? This is curious because, at one of the most crucial moments in the development of his own thought Heidegger turned to Kant to read “with Kant” in order to find an “advocate” to his own thought…to find a “refuge”.13 Also, in his Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics Heidegger emphasized the importance of Kant’s discovery of the imagination’s role in the original synthesis of sensibility and understanding. But he also notes that as part of the metaphysical tradition, Kant has contributed to the perpetuation of its major prejudices. Much like Hegel before him, who saw in the idea of the “intuitive understanding” the seed of the sublation of the one-sidedness of subjectivity, Heidegger recognized in this original link within reason the key notion that transcended the unilateral conception of reason and pointed to the dislocation of what he called the metaphysical notion of the subject. However, Kant still remained prisoner of the tradition in that, according to Heidegger, Kant quickly “forgot” this discovery and instead became fixated with the categories and their formation in the First Critique and thus recoiled back on his familiar terrain of the subject–object dichotomy. Yet Heidegger’s subsequent remarks on Kant show that it was Kant himself who, in the Third Critique, had ventured outside this terrain. It is in the notion of disinterestedness that Heidegger finds the glimpse of this other Kant. However, Heidegger never “reads” the Third Critique the way he does the First. It seems to have been customary to pass the Third Critique in favor of the First.14 Perhaps, not unlike Hegel, Heidegger had interpreted Kant in self-serving manner. There was taking place a major revolution in philosophy but it failed again, as Hegel thought and so, it seems, is implied in this reading by Heidegger. Jacques Derrida takes the issue with Heidegger’s own “forgetting” of his interest in schematism and 13 Martin

Heidegger, Kant and Problem of Metaphysics, xv. Kantian Subject, 19. Also see, Claus Christian Köhnke, The Rise of Neo-Kantianism, Translated by R.J. Hollingdale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 212.

14 The



in appreciative assessment of Kant as in itself significant. Derrida links his interest in Kant and “his forgetting” to his regret or repenting (repentirs).15 So, significantly, these contentious Heideggerian themes themselves have been associated with Kant interpretations. To understand Kant properly means to understand him better than he understood himself, declared Heidegger.16 Despite his highly inflected interpretation, he offers, what I believe to be, an account that is very truthful to the spirit of Kant. Other than these obvious references discussed above, I take this aesthetic to have influenced Heidegger’s own take on the method of procedure. As for the whole of the philosophical project, this aesthetic “interruption”, or its insertion, was of major significance for him as well as for all those who rejected the Hegelian take on the systematicity of philosophy and his dialectics of sublation. As the propadeutic, aesthetics would require some major readjustments within the system. This was something previously thought not to be possible, as Kant says. It is a fresh start for philosophy. He seems to be implying that aesthetics is the site of this fresh start. Henceforth whatever we say about philosophy has to start from this starting point. As the mere propadeutic, the exposition of the faculty of judgment would not be quite a doctrine. “Regardless of its a priori principles, it does not supply a part of transcendental philosophy as an objective doctrine”. But it is the critique itself that is defined by Kant in the First Critique as the propadeutic, as the scaffolding of the whole system (and not the doctrine of the transcendental philosophy).17 It is this critical faculty at issue in the Third Critique. Now judgment is discussed in this critique as leading, and not as a merely an auxiliary faculty (as determinate judgment of the First Critique, where judgment is subordinated to understanding). Reflective judgment is one that is rendered without the intervention of a definite concept. In its autonomy critical reflection must be aesthetic (i.e., purely reflective). As already discussed in the Introduction, by positing reflective judgment in the center of the critique and marking it as purely aesthetic, Kant assumes a close link (if not an equation) between philosophical critique and the aesthetic critique. Thus, the structure of the reflective aesthetic judgment, judgment that judges without rules, becomes the paradigm of critique itself. This feature indeed makes the structure of the critical system appear singular. With this “aesthetic” core, the system is anchored in the realm of the sensible. This is its general framework: but what of the concepts that Kant introduces as belonging properly to this aesthetic? The Third Critique will bind the system together. It will relate, interrelate and enable the transfer of one mode of thinking into another by Übertragung. In the “Analytic of the Sublime” imagination asserted its supremacy over understanding by "overpowering" the inner sense of time and in the act of “reversing it” lets reason “think without concepts”. This way of thinking is called Übertragung. Kant would 15 Jacque

Derrida, Vergessen wir nicht—die Psychoanalyse!, herausgegeben von Hans-Dieter Gondek (Suhrkamp: 1998), 166. 16 Martin Heidegger, Phenomenological Interpretation, 2. 17 See also the discussion in CJ, 195.



be pressed by his critics to show that the discovery of this “special” feature of the mind is not merely his own fancy.18 As it is customary with Kant, he points to the fact that this is merely self-evident and that especially the ordinary language illustrates this fact. Is it not true, also, that the reflective thinking finds its principle in “mother wit”, in the ability that “no school can teach”, in Witz, ingenium? It is this capacity to übertragen (“transfer”, “transmit” but, also, “translate”, “communicate”, “delegate” or “infect”) that informs the philosophical thought itself. Thus, in the Third Critique the theoretical justification of the (sublime) state of mind required for reflective thinking is undertaken. This state must demonstrate that reason can think without needing to cooperate with understanding, i.e., it can think by Übertragen.19 The First Critique’s uses the notion of metaphor (“as if”) to demonstrate the limits of conceptual language; here it explains its origins, the mechanism of its production. Kant’s achievement in this is to free language, as well as thought, from, the Gestell, to borrow from Heidegger again, with which they both have been inexorably paired. From this analysis (which would be in accord with Heidegger’s claim) conceptual framing seems only secondary to language and thought. Built on the fundamental stratum of the imaginative synthesis language first engenders metaphor. Should it be assumed then that the absolute has something to do with ambiguity, that it is ambiguous, or, is the ambiguity itself absolute? For Heidegger, the impossibility of closure and sublation is connected to that third term that “suddenly” appears in the transcendental aesthetic (the power of imagination). Heidegger praises Kant for the tension this gesture produces, for his “astonishing sincerity and prudence for leaving the riddle standing”. The “riddle of the Kant’s system” is that it does not posit the false unity of the incompatible terms. Kant is admired for not “attempting to mix fire and water”.20 Derrida takes Heidegger’s stance toward Kant’s transcendental aesthetic with its stress on the third term, the third as it can also be taken figuratively—as a figure—as the other, the figure of the radically other, ultimately to be the deconstructive gesture that posits philosophy as a priori aesthetic, or affective.21

Hannah Arendt: The Sensus Communis in the Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy The pleasure and displeasure constitute the absolute. —Hannah Arendt, Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy.

Hannah Arendt can be counted among the philosophers of the later stream of German philosophy, like Martin Heidegger, Theodor W. Adorno, Georg Lukacs and 18 Immanuel

Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, translated by Lewis White Beck (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1956), 10. 19 The Kantian Subject, 14. 20 Phenomenological Interpretation, 47, 111. 21 Jacques Derrida and Maurizio Ferraris, A Taste for the Secret, 47.



others, who although disrespected the isolated achievements of Kant’s first two major critiques, embraced the idea of reason developed in the third. Again, Hannah Arendt’s is a cautious praise, but she puts forward several very strong defenses of the Critique of Judgment. She takes the Third Critique to provide the basis of Kant’s political philosophy. She turns her attention to such concepts as the shared human sensibility and disinterested liking and seeks, in the same manner as Heidegger, to understand Kant through these concepts. This process invariably, as we have pointed out already, involves reading Kant “against himself”. Arendt’s reading unravels the origins of this theory. She demonstrates how it is rooted within the philosophical tradition and how it is connected to her own interests in the autonomy of the judging faculty of which she finds abundant evidence in the ancient philosophical tradition. Interpreting Arendt’s encounter with Kant is complicated by the following factors. As it is well known, judgment holds an important place in her own writing; however, her final work was left unfinished. Judging was to have succeeded Thinking and Willing as the third concluding part of her final work, the Life of the Mind, that was never written. She died shortly after writing Willing. For her too (and in a way, to mirror Kant), the treaties on judgment were to contain the final overarching theme (perhaps). In Kant, much like Heidegger, she sought an ally in that she interpreted Kant as trying to overcome some of the problems of the earlier critiques through the notion of judgment. But, as it has been noted by Arendt scholars, there are two theories of judgment that Arendt offers in her unfinished work on judging. And furthermore, she addresses the set of Kant’s ideas that she takes Kant himself to have not lived to develop properly. Thus, we are left to work with “unfinished” ideas in Arendt as well as what she thought were only the hints of the work to come in Kant. This said, she goes on to claim, that Kant’s aesthetics was a prelude to his thesis on politics, equally undeveloped or unfinished. And from the development of this thesis, Arendt scholars reconstruct her own understanding of judgment and its role in the politics.22 Thus to define the encounter between Arendt and Kant, even more than with Heidegger, is to seek the “advocacy” for Arendt’s own work (as Heidegger sought for his own). This contentious terrain of interpretations is not the subject of the present discussion; however, the hope is that the status of the judgment in Arendt, and its rootedness in Kant’s idea of the sensus communis, might hold the key to comprehending the ethical since Kant. I quote Ronald Beiner from his interpretative essay in Arendt’s Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy. Surveying Arendt’s work as a whole, we can see that she offers not one but two theories of judgment. There are scattered references to the faculty of judgment throughout Arendt’s published writings of the 1960s. However, beginning in the 1970s we can detect a subtle but important reorientation. In her writings up until the 1971 essay, ‘Thinking and Moral Considerations’, judgment is considered from the point of view of the vita activa, in her writings from that essay onward, judgment is considered from the point of view of the life of the mind. The emphasis shifts from the representative thought and enlarged mentality of political agents to the spectatorship and retrospective judgment of historians and storytellers. The blind poet, at a remove from the action and therefore capable of disinterested reflection, now becomes the emblem of judging. Removed from first-order perception, the objects of 22 Hannah

Arendt, Lectures, 19, 30–31.



judgment are re-presented in imagination by a mental act of second-order reflection. The blind poet judges from a distance, which is the condition of disinterestedness. Thus Homer, prepares the way for the impartial judgments of ancient historiography. Homer and Herodotus alike proffer examples of human excellence for pleasurable reflection.23

These themes are of Kant’s sensus communis to which Hannah Arendt accords such significance for her own thought as well. Let us try to unravel the key aspects of this reading of Kant in Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy first, and then attend to the issue of the judgment. Arendt is interested in the way in which Kant comes back to his philosophical undertaking in the Third Critique. It is a self-scrutiny where Kant gives up the famous divisions of his system and now tackles the “wholeness” of the question that confronts philosophy as such. This existential inquiry leads Kant to ask “why is it necessary that men should exist at all” and by that his investigation shifts to “anthropos” as a being, “actual inhabitant of this earth”.24 He focuses on the “humankind”, on the “earthbound creatures, who are endowed with common sense”, a community sense. Arendt defines further this communal being as “not autonomous, needing each other’s company even for thinking” and she adds—“the first part of the Critique of Judgment: aesthetic judgment”.25 As communal and sociable, this would be a priori a notion of the subject far from the theoretical subject shielded by Hume’s veil of perception, from the world of things. This communal and theoretical need further clarification. Ronald Beiner’s interpretation of “two judgment hypotheses” holds that Arendt later abandoned her concern with the judging as a feature of political life as such, or the idea of praxis or practical life altogether and her interest shifts to the contemplative aspects of the humanist tradition. Here we might as well recall Arendt’s interest in theory as active spectatorship, as within drama. She is interested precisely in the way these notions intersect rather than exclude each other. In this sense then, there seem to be no “two judgments”. Kant’s use of the notion of the sensus communis harks back to many traditions. Though he openly disdains using the notion in the “Scottish” sense and calls it das Urtheil des Menge: Ein Zuklatschen, ‚uber das der Philosophie errötet, his relationship to his contemporaries’ use of the term, his indebtedness to Adam Smith especially, is evident.26 He focuses on the sense of spectatorship, the world citizenship, on beholding. Arendt’s interest in the Greek and humanist idea of sociability as it connects to Kant’s idea of shared human sensibility can be retrieved from his formulation of the maxims that define the sensus communis—Selbsdenken or thinking for oneself—and an der Stelle jedes anderen denken or thinking from the standpoint of others. Paradoxically, they seem incompatible with each other at a first glance, but they become elucidated through Kant’s use of the notion of disinterestedness which

23 Ibid., 24 Ibid.,

92. 26.

25 Ibid. 26 The

Kantian Subject, 3.



draws attention to the similarity between this type of contemplation and the idea prevalent in Latin humanist tradition of vita contemplativa.27 Disinterestedness, as we have looked at in the analysis of the beautiful and the sublime, involves judgments that produce the peculiar non-binary concepts, the indeterminate norms, exemplary necessity and subjective necessity, that Kant had “found” “to marvel upon”. Are these aesthetic concepts also practical concepts? Given what Hannah Arendt has to say about it, this is a non-question. As we saw, the exemplarity that fascinated Hannah Arendt is that “unsublatable immediacy” (as we shall see further with the discussion of Adorno) and also that unconceptual, which aesthetic reflective judgments are able to reproduce as mimetic acts. These acts of judgments are a priori practical (ethical) in the most original sense, as they deal with the immediate other. I have interpreted the sensus communis through the psychoanalytic term of mourning in The Kantian Subject: the Sensus Communis, Mimesis, Work of Mourning. Aesthetic judgments seem to stand for the relation to the other. In this sense, the notion carries both aesthetical and ethical connotations. One can assert then that the affective structure of the self designates the original “intersubjectivity”, if one must use this loaded term. To clarify what this “original” relation, or intention, means it is helpful to turn to Derrida’s analysis of mourning which for him defines “something completely other than a mere subjective interiority”. It is connected to loss, as “always” a priori inscribed within the auto-affective sense (sensing) of the other and underlying the aesthetico-practical structure of this relationship. Derrida describes “the eternal structure of mourning our autonomy”.28 The structure of mourning is “something completely other than a mere subjective interiority, rather it is a place open to an infinite transcendence”… “Mourning is the inscription of the other in me” “the open ended gaze…”.29 “Originary mourning does not take place at any particular moment due to any particular death, but is the inscription of the mortal other (alive or dead) in me. It is from this inscription of the other in me, from this site of mourning that I am able to appear to myself as singular, that is, as myself. Cogito ergo is marked by this previous inscription of the other…”30 The loss of the subjective, of the status of the self and the process of reconstitution, is the theme of the concept of mourning. Perhaps nobody outside psychoanalysis has as thoroughly investigated the singularity of this encounter as Derrida has done. He elaborates on this Freudian notion to define the philosophical terms of subjectivity through the affective relationship between the self and the other. 27 See

on humanism and Kant, Edward Eugene Kleist, Judging Appearances (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers: 2000), 135. Petrarch, Francis: The Life of Solitude, translated, with introduction and notes, by Jacob Zeitlin (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1924), 92. 28 Jacques Derrida, “By Force of Mourning”, translated by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas, Critica lInquiry 22 (Winter, 1996), 171–192, 189. 29 Jacques Derrida, The Work of Mourning, translated and edited by Pascale-Anne Brault and Micheal Naas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 53. See also, Jacques Derrida, “Portrait d’un philosophe: Jacques Derrida, “ in Philosophie, Philosophie (Revue des Etudiants de Philosophie Universite Paris VIII, Vincennes a Saint-Denis, 1997, 16ff. 30 Jacques Derrida, Truth in Painting, translated by Geoff Bennington (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 46.



What Arendt finds in judgments is the permutation of the terms that define the practical and “contemplative”, communal and singular, essentially ethical and aesthetic, and the means by which they intersect. Disinterest emerges as the defining term. “The chief difficulty in judgment is that it is “the faculty of thinking the particular”; but to think (emphasis hers) means to generalize, hence it is the faculty of mysteriously combining the particular and the general. This is relatively easy if the general is given—as a rule, a principle, a law –so that the judgment merely subsumes the particular under it”.31 This can be conceived of as a “Platonic” idea of a standard outside particulars. The derivation of the tertium quid or tertiu mcomparationis necessary for judgment, according to Arendt, in the Critique of Judgment, happens either within “the idea of an original compact of mankind as a whole, …humanness of human beings, living and dying in this world, on this earth that is a globe, which they inhabit in common, share in common, in the succession of generations…and the idea of purposiveness by which to regulate one’s reflections…” or what she finds even more valuable as an idea, by “exemplary validity”. “Examples are thus the gocart of judgment”(B174/A134), as she quotes, the Critique of Pure Reason. Arendt has expanded her inquiry of the political and the practical life, by adopting Kant’s view of exemplarity from the Critique of Judgment. She favors the practical teleology that emerges from the disinterestedness. The singularity—exemplarity of the “aesthetic liking”, the process that is lengthy and involved, is what Kant calls the act of “bestowing favor” or Gunst (CJ, 52/KU 123). As the condition of necessary liking of the beautiful (the argument of the “Modality of the Liking for the Object” in the Critique of Judgment), it reveals the purpose, the end, the law, of the other as singular. In this sense, disinterest comprises the essence of Arendt’s practical life. One may finish off with the following observation regarding this concluding brief analysis. This analysis corroborates the prescient remarks cited at the start of this discussion. They also appear to support each other. What might seem an off the cuff comment by Cohen on the methods of approaching Kant alludes to a real risk and a double bind. Despite (and perhaps because of) such possibility, Taminiaux points to “strong evidence” the “Continental” Kant interpretations themselves being an important part of the making-up of (in shaping) “the history of philosophy itself”.

Theodor Adorno: The Concept of Enlightenment and the Consolation of Philosophy Yet it was never right for philosophy to abandon unaccompanied the way of the innocent. —Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy

In his Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Adorno discusses a peculiar dialectic of “Trennung” rather than of Aufhebung of the Kantian system, and the notion of 31 Hannah

Arendt, Lectures, 76.



“chorismos” or a rupture.32 Adorno argues that this dialectic is discernible in the concepts of space and time, which express Kant’s hesitation, his undecided or unsure stance. Adorno says that the point may appear “very subtle, even over subtle”, which concerns a problem in the arrangement of the chapters in the Critique of Pure Reason. Transcendental Aesthetic is made to precede the Transcendental Logic as a kind of fundamental stratum of knowledge, but he adds that aesthetic is, rather the function of logic. The whole question of this dialectic can be clarified with reference to the fourth thesis of the Transcendental Aesthetic, thesis that space and time are infinite given magnitudes (CPR, A25/32). “It is extremely curious that having characterized the concepts of the infinitude of the given magnitude as the form of intuition, without noticing that the critique of the antinomies must hold good in this instance too and makes them a positive given, the very thing that was precluded at this point. Even at the level of the act of the pure variation of the imagination as Husserl would have it-the difficulties would arise of ‘representing’ at the level of representation”.33 Adorno argues, this takes place because there is such a thing as immediacy, something that cannot be reduced, this element, then, of an existing something that cannot be completely dissolved into form. For Adorno then “Critique of Pure Reason represents the first great attempt in modern times—or perhaps we should say also the last great attempt, and one doomed to failure—to master through mere concepts all that cannot be mastered by concepts. What the concepts express is that by establishing identity they are simultaneously compelled to acknowledge the fact of non-identity”.34 I would argue that Adorno’s Negative Dialectic may be read as the elaboration of this particular dialectical theme as he also maintains that this inherently paradoxical premise extends to the whole concept of Enlightenment (as “the kernel of the Kantian method is the concept of enlightenment”). Thereby it is also able to redeem it. The central concepts of Kant’s philosophy are unsettlingly aporetic: antinomy informs the notions of autonomy and the absolute. Adorno points to a few key places where this antinomic character of reason manifests itself: 1. In the first principle of enlightened thinking: to think for oneself where this imperative becomes contradictory because this type of “unfettered use of reason” is always subjectively restricted as it is purely theoretical. 2. In private and public use of reason—“what it expresses is a genuinely social”. 3. And more generally, in reason’s critical character. “The case is rather that in Kant an ambiguity of Enlightenment thought itself reaches a culmination and finds itself in an antinomic situation. On the one hand, Enlightenment and enlightening thought really do aspire to Utopia, to the making real of reason: while on the other hand, it turns its critical gaze on the concept of reason and thus restricts its validity, recoiling from the complete establishment of utopia, the absolute”.35 This also echoes Heidegger’s praise of Kant for leaving “the riddle

32 Theodor W. Adorno, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001),

129. 33 Theodor W. Adorno, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, 73. 34 Ibid., 234. 35 Ibid., 231.



standing”, for his “astonishing sincerity and prudence” in not attempting to mix “fire and water” (see above discussion of Phenomenological Interpretation). It is interesting to view the Third Critique in the light of this insight as an attempt to systematize this antinomic character of reason as it has to explain Autonomy and the Absolute, the notions that posit reason as sublated—after Hegel. The claim seems to be that aesthetics is able to express, in a highly problematic gesture, exactly this aporia of the inexorably “given”. In general terms, Theodor Adorno’s own project, not unlike Kant’s of the First Critique, can be viewed as wresting philosophy (and the Enlightenment project) from its own predicament. I will explain. As it is generally well known, the goal of Kant’s project is to rescue philosophy from the crisis of Hume’s skepticism and skepticism in general that, in Kant’s view, the eighteenth-century epistemology exacerbates. The First Critique is directed to save philosophy from this profound crisis expressed in the skeptical view of the world. Philosophy is able to reveal what it deems as only partially true and thus is in its essence disingenuous as it is not able to live up to its original promise of truth. This is one way of understanding the root of this skepticism. To “liberate” it from this false constrain (and to prove that it is false), Kant’s initial gesture is to develop transcendental aesthetic. Essentially, the effect of aesthetics on the philosophy’s conceptual armature is that it must destroy its metaphysical, false, premise. Philosophers, Kant declares, need to stand apart from the “Cyclopes” who have one eye missing: “the eye, namely, of true philosophy”.36 Adorno’s rather harsh assessment of modernity and the philosophical dead-end in the aftermath of World War II is well known. Paradoxically, though, it also contains, in a “sibylic” note for hope, an argument in defense of philosophy. He concedes the burden of blame for the most horrendous acts of betrayal of humanity has to be shared by philosophy as well, by its utterly faulty assessment of the project of the Enlightenment that belied the aims of reason itself. This act testifies to its poverty, inaccuracy and even worse, to complicity. Alternately, it could be seen as simply owing to naiveté, no better, to be the result of the string of ill-posed questions. Whatever the reasons might be, if this guilt is redeemable, it is because there can be found salvageable elements in these ruins of thought. To echo Boethius: “Yet it was never right for philosophy to abandon unaccompanied the way of the innocent”. The parallelism between the conceptual thinking and “the economic world of exchange” lies in the “fungible” nature of both. As it is well known, Adorno assumes this homology to be the determinant feature of the reason’s path to modernity—of its troubling odyssey. As it has often been said, offering no possible alternatives, this remains a harsh, perhaps, an excessively spurious verdict by Adorno. Yet, this dooming judgment seems not to be exhaustive. He also points to hope and “promise”. To quote from Negative Dialectics: “Indelible in resistance to the fungible world of exchange is the resistance of the eye that does not want the world’s colors to vanish. In semblance nonsemblance is promised”. Further, Adorno writes that: “The need to let suffering speak is a condition of all truth. For suffering is objectivity that weighs upon the

36 Immanuel

Kant, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, 95.



subject”.37 In other words, the promise is made when suffering is accepted as the gauge of truth. The burden of truth is equated with physical burden, as it elicits pain; thus, hope seems to lie in thought’s capacity to expand (and to renew itself) through this aesthetic (affective) gesture (as “the gauge of truth”). Ultimately, this gesture must also be able to point to the ways to emancipate from the constraints of subject’s own act of positing, to demonstrate the fact that thought’s potential is not exhausted by this restricted subjectivity. ∗ ∗ ∗ “How I hate philosophy, give me the common sense”, declared Thomas Reid, to whom Kant might have rejoined, “how I love philosophy, to restitute it, give me the common sense”.

37 Theodor

W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, translated by E.B. Ashton (New York: Continuum, 1979), 404–405 and 17–18.


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A Adorno, Theodor, 44, 47, 51, 54–58 Aesthetic, 1–7, 9, 10, 12–18, 21–25, 27, 29, 30, 34, 35, 37, 38, 40, 42–58 Arendt, Hannah, 44, 47, 51–55

B Benjamin, Walter, 1 Bernstein, Jay, 47

C Cassirer, Ernst, 15, 25, 28, 31, 48 Cohen, Hermann, 55

D Damisch, Hubert, 8, 9, 15, 16, 41, 42, 42 Derrida, Jacques, 12, 23, 47, 49–51, 54 Diderot, Dennis, 7, 8, 10, 14, 16, 18–20, 24, 25, 27–35, 37–39, 41, 42

Gemeinsinn, 6 Gibson, James J., 8, 15, 16, 19, 20 Goethe, Johann Wolfgang, 6, 8, 25, 37, 40

H Habermas, J‚urgen, 4 Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, 1, 4–6, 43–47, 49, 57 Heidegger, Martin, 8, 11, 13, 21–24, 28, 44, 47–52, 56

I Inverse optical problem, 14, 20

J Judgment, 2–5, 7, 8, 10–13, 16, 21, 24, 27, 29, 31, 33, 44, 46, 50, 52–55, 57

K Kojeve, Alexander, 43 E Episteme, 41, 42 Epistemology, 10, 17, 24, 27, 30, 31, 57

L Lacan, Jacques, 43, 46 Las, Meninas, 40–42

F Falkenstein, Lorne, 17, 18 Foucault, Michel, 40–43 Fried, Michael, 38–41

M Molyneux problem, 14, 18, 27–29, 31, 32

G Gadamer, Hans-Georg, 10, 11, 13, 47

N Naturalism, 7, 9, 15, 16, 25, 42

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 T. Japaridze, The Visible, the Sublime and the Sensus Communis, SpringerBriefs in Philosophy,


68 Newton, Isaac, 10, 14, 15, 19, 24, 27, 29–31, 33 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 11, 21, 46

O Optics, 5–10, 13–16, 20, 21, 27, 31–33

P Painting, 8, 9, 13, 15, 25, 27, 29, 30, 35, 37–43, 54 Panofsky, Erwin, 8, 13, 15 Parergon, 3 Pascal, Blaise, 54 Perspective, 5, 7–9, 12, 15, 16, 18, 20, 37, 39, 41, 42, 47 Plato, 10–13, 15, 24, 27, 47

Index R Renaissance, 2, 4–9, 40, 41 Ricoeur, Paul, 11

S Schmidt, Dennis J, 47 Sensus communis, 2–6, 9, 15, 43, 51–54 Sublime, 1, 3–5, 7, 10–12, 21, 23, 27, 34, 47, 50, 51, 54 Summers, David, 2, 7, 9, 10, 13

T Taminiaux, Jacques, 55 Tonelli, Georgio, 2, 5, 6