University of Virginia Library

Search this document 
Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
2 occurrences of Ancients and Moderns in the Eighteenth Century
[Clear Hits]
  
  
expand section 
  
expand section 
  
  

expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
collapse sectionIII. 
  
expand sectionII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 

2 occurrences of Ancients and Moderns in the Eighteenth Century
[Clear Hits]

IV. KANT

In Kant the term “play” occurs so often in the
discussion of art that some commentators have been
led to exaggerate the importance in his system of “the
free play of imagination” or of ideas. Yet while no
well-articulated theory can be attributed directly to
Kant, it remains true all the same that the connections
among play, art, and freedom to be found explicitly
in the Critique of Judgment are the primary source
of Schiller's position, and therewith of all subsequent
views on the question before us—to the possible exclu-
sion of “surplus energy” theories.

The point of departure lies in the significance of
“freedom” in Kant's position. Cognitive judgments are
bound by the necessity of their conformity to the


104

modalities by which the human mind forms concepts,
i.e., by the forms of intuition and the categories. These
impose a logical structure on concepts and the relations
among them that in turn leads to the uniformity of
the knowledge possessed by all minds and thus justifies
the claim for the possibility of a science of the phe-
nomenal world. Ethical judgments, while not bound
by fact (which would make ethics merely empirical)
are bound by the nature of reason such that certain
“ideas of pure reason” are binding on all rational minds
so that, on Kant's view, a science of ethics is also
possible.

But aesthetic judgments are not bound in either of
these ways: they are not referable back in any neces-
sary way to concepts depending on experience, nor
are they such as to be uniform for all rational minds.
They are necessarily subjective (Critique of Judgment
hereafter CJ—Bernard trans., §2, p. 39). Satisfaction in
the beautiful must not only be distinguished from
cognition and morality, but also from sensory pleasure
(§3, 40) which exerts its own tyranny. In all these cases
we have an interest in the existence of the object that
gives rise to these judgments and feelings; but aesthetic
judgment is disinterested and contemplative, i.e., it is
free of constraint whether coerced by fact or logic or
pain and pleasure: “The cognitive powers, which are
involved by this representation, are here in free play,
because no definite concept limits them to a definite
rule of cognition” (§9, 52).

It should be noted that, at the same time that Kant
stresses the freedom (and therewith the subjectivity)
of aesthetic judgment, he is not prepared to abandon
altogether the notion of the uniformity of such judg-
ments (they ought to be necessary and universal): “We
are conscious that this subjective relation, suitable for
cognition in general, must be valid for everyone, and
thus must be universally communicable, just as if it
were a definite cognition, resting always on that rela-
tion as its subjective condition” (ibid.). And this leads
him to claim a “universal subjective validity” that
restores the possibility of rational discourse on aesthetic
judgment.

In the “Analytic of the Sublime” (ibid.) Kant returns
to the question of play as it more specifically applies
to art. We find him here furnishing support to those
who find the notion of art as play profoundly offensive.
Indeed, as we noted earlier, art is often viewed as play
only when it is intended to disparage both; but where
art is assigned a nobler role, there is a tendency to
emphasize the rational (cognitive and ethical) aspects
at the expense of play. Kant's position reflects the
dialectical tension of these extremes. In §43 he draws
distinctions between art and nature, science, and
handicraft on the one hand, but warns (p. 147) against
“many modern educators” who “believe that the best
way to produce a free art is to remove it from all
constraint, and thus to change it from work into mere
play.” What redeems art from this charge, as we see
from numerous other passages, is that the ideas with
which imagination plays must have appeal to under-
standing and reason: so much for the content of art;
as to its form, “e.g., in poetry there must be an accu-
racy and wealth of language, and also prosody and
measure.” Kant's rationalism and formalism are not
lightly to be cast aside, and thus we find him balancing
the claims of freedom against those of the rule of reason
which may be thought by those “modern educators”
(to say nothing of even more modern artists) to con-
strict imagination within the framework either of drab
representationism or of decaying forms:

[Poetry] plays with illusion (Schein), which it produces at
pleasure, but without deceiving by it; for it declares its
exercise to be mere play, which however can be purposively
used by the understanding

(§53, p. 171).

A final observation before we continue to trace the
later fate of these influential ideas. In the Critique of
Pure Reason
(A141-42 = B180-81) we read that while

... the image is a product of the empirical faculty of
reproductive imagination, the schema of sensible concepts,
such as of figures in space, is a product and, as it were,
a monogram, of pure a priori imagination, through which,
and in accordance with which, images themselves first
become possible.

This doctrine of schematism strongly suggests Kant's
philosophical motives for retaining a rational founda-
tion for art. It is that the mind can propose forms to
itself that in turn make images of particulars possible;
but given the structure of the human mind and its
uniformity, there are limitations as to the forms that
can be entertained, and these have (or ought to have)
universal appeal, constituting the basis for communi-
cation and meaningfulness. Yet he clearly confused
historically and culturally determined forms (e.g., in
poetry and painting) for existentially determined ones,
and so placed fortuitous restrictions on what might
properly constitute art as well as on the power of
imagination to propose other forms (whether in art or
in science). We may therefore expect to find in his
successors an attack on these restrictions, as well as
on the necessary uniformity of human rationality. The
farthest-reaching attack, however, will derive from
implications of his metaphysics that he could hardly
have foreseen (e.g., the unknowability of the thing-
in-itself and the “as if” aspects of our explanations of
reality).


105