Friday, August 24, 2018

Immanuel Kant on Natural Beauty

Immanuel Kant’s offers a characterization of his concept of natural beauty in his book The Critique of Judgement (Part I: Critique of the Aesthetical Judgement; Second Book: Analytic of the Sublime; section 23). He notes that natural beauty is the quintessence of the ‘purposiveness of form,’ which he has in the section 14 of the book asserted is the basis for pleasure underlying the judgement of taste. He says:
Natural beauty (which is self-subsisting) brings with it a purposiveness in its form by which the object seems to be, as it were, pre-adapted to our Judgement, and thus constitutes in itself an object of satisfaction. On the other hand, that which excites in us, without any reasoning about it, but in the mere apprehension of it, the feeling of the sublime, may appear as regards its form to violate purpose in respect of the Judgement, to be unsuited to our presentative faculty, and, as it were, to do violence to the Imagination; and yet it is judged to be only the more sublime.
He also discusses natural beauty in section 16 (First Book: Analytic of the Beautiful):
Flowers are free natural beauties. Hardly any one but a botanist knows what sort of a thing a flower ought to be; and even he, though recognising in the flower the reproductive organ of the plant, pays no regard to this natural purpose if he is passing judgement on the flower by Taste. There is then at the basis of this judgement no perfection of any kind, no internal purposiveness, to which the collection of the manifold is referred. Many birds (such as the parrot, the humming bird, the bird of paradise), and many sea shells are beauties in themselves, which do not belong to any object determined in respect of its purpose by concepts, but please freely and in themselves.
Kant holds that we judge the beauty of any manmade structure by its ability to serve the purpose for which it has been constructed. But a free beauty is something that we can appreciate without considering its purpose. Nature provides us with some of the most accessible examples of free beauty.

In section 40 (Second Book: Analytic of the Sublime), he explores if natural beauty is of interest to us because of the universality of the feelings that it espouses:
If we could assume that the mere universal communicability of a feeling must carry in itself an interest for us with it (which, however, we are not justified in concluding from the character of a merely reflective Judgement), we should be able to explain why the feeling in the judgement of taste comes to be imputed to every one, so to speak, as a duty.
He rejects this with respect to art; however, in section 42, he notes that if beautiful forms of nature interest someone immediately, then that man may have a good moral disposition:
Consequently, the mind cannot ponder upon the beauty of Nature without finding itself at the same time interested therein. But this interest is akin to moral, and he who takes such an interest in the beauties of nature can do so only in so far as he previously has firmly established his interest in the morally good. If, therefore, the beauty of Nature interests a man immediately we have reason for attributing to him, at least, a basis for a good moral disposition. 
According to Kant, morality is only possible when there is a correlation between nature and our exercise of free will—the ends that are proposed by reason must be in line with what we find in the natural world. 

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