Hannah Arendt and Friedrich Schiller on Kant’s Aesthetics

The Public Character of the Beautiful

by Mihály Szilágyi-Gál (Author)
Thesis 166 Pages


This book analyzes how the public character of judgments of taste makes implicit statements in moral and political philosophy. The framework that relates aesthetic, moral, and political aspects into such a triadic relationship is an implicit conception of freedom. In «The Critique of Judgment» Kant elaborates the idea that judgments of taste can only exist where society exists. The author regards Friedrich Schiller’s and Hannah Arendt’s approaches on the normative resources of Kant’s aesthetics for moral and political thought. He evaluates the discovery of the presence of a constant feature of Kant’s conception of freedom in both his aesthetic and moral theory: freedom as autonomy.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • I. Kant’s Theory of Judgments of Taste
  • 1. Kant’s Use of the Word Aesthetics
  • 2. The Meaning of the Concept of Judgments of Taste
  • 3. The Place of Judgments of Taste in Kant’s Critical Philosophy
  • A. Teleology as the Broader Framework of Nature and Freedom
  • B. Teleology and History
  • C. The Epistemology of Autonomy
  • 4. The Way Toward the Others: “Neigung zur Geselligkeit”
  • II. Taste and Morality
  • 1. Disinterested Delight as Interest
  • 2. The Good as Beautiful: the Aesthetic Realm as the Sensual Representation of Moral Ideas
  • 3. The Relationship Between Taste and Culture as a Moral Matter
  • III. Two Followers: Arendt and Schiller
  • 1. The Moral Burden of Cognition: Arendt’s Political Reasoning
  • 2. Education for the Good, Through the Beautiful: the Trap of Schiller’s Conception of Education?
  • 3. The Continuation of Kant’s Conception of Freedom in Schiller’s Aesthetic Letters
  • IV. Kant – Schiller – Arendt: Shared Matters
  • 1. Freedom as an Epistemological Gift
  • 2. The Inherent Freedom of Individual Judgments of Taste
  • 3. Imagination as the Aesthetic Relationship with the World
  • 4. Taste and Politics
  • 5. Taste and Communication
  • 6. Moral Character as the Final Framework of Judgments of Taste
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography

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„Das Zeitalter ist aufgeklärt, (…) woran liegt es, daß wir noch immer Barbaren sind?“
Friedrich Schiller: ACHTER BRIEF


In The Critique of Judgment, Kant elaborates the idea that judgments of taste can only exist where society exists. The present thesis argues that it is this public character of judgments of taste that makes them implicit statements in moral political philosophy: by making such statements we always relate ourselves to other people. The framework that relates aesthetic, moral, and political aspects into such a triadic relationship is an implicit conception of freedom. Both Schiller’s and Arendt’s approach to the normative resources of Kant’s aesthetics for moral and political thought discover the presence of a constant feature of Kant’s conception of freedom in both his aesthetic and moral theory: freedom as autonomy. ← 9 | 10 →

1 “Our Age is Enlightened; (…) How is it, then, that we still remain barbarians?” Friedrich Schiller: On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters. English and German Facing. Ed., trans., with an introduction, commentary and glossary of terms by Elizabeth M. Wilkinson and L.A. Willoughby. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982. First edition in 1967. Eighth Letter – Trans. by M. Szilágyi-Gál.

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The disciplinary and the thematic division between moral and political philosophy, as well as aesthetics has clearly become the academically canonized way to study the questions of these fields of philosophy since the 18th century. However, the adequate study of a particular matter may be more important than to follow an always more or less arbitrary disciplinary framing of enquiry. The job undertaken in this dissertation is to examine aesthetic phenomena as a matter relevant for aesthetic, moral, and political theory.

The fact that the matter of the beautiful is recognized primarily as an aesthetic one does not exclude the possibility that the enquiry, which focuses on this matter, may not have certain aspects that can equally be examined from the perspectives of moral and political philosophy. On the contrary, the more puzzling a question is the less likely and the less necessary it is to be viewed within the strict framework of a pre-arranged disciplinary categorization. Even within one single specialized field, interdisciplinary approaches can fall prey to ending up as something “non-disciplinary” instead of being inter-disciplinary. This can emerge from the risk of artificial comparisons among concepts and hypotheses borrowed from different fields.2

A further trap of interdisciplinary approaches is to claim a systematic resemblance, the common research potential of two distinct fields although in the case of both there might only be one single particular set of problems which display shared research matters. This is the case, for instance, of the various, often fuzzy applications of the term “paradigm”, or of the “space-time” topos. These are terms and notions which often show up in non-adequate contexts and lead to equivocations.

Contrary to such inconsistencies, in certain cases a given matter or phenomena steps out of some particular disciplinary framework and appears as a self-originating subject of research. In such cases the relationship between the ← 11 | 12 → disciplinary framework and the disciplinary identity of the research matter in question is reversed and it is the discipline itself that turns out to be an artificial categorization; furthermore, it is the concrete research matter that gains independent attention. In these cases, the inter-disciplinary approach is the only legitimate one, because it is the most suitable research means to address the topic itself instead of forcing it into some pre-set disciplinary categorization.

The present dissertation reflects upon The Critique of Judgment by Immanuel Kant. I consider that the feature that links the beautiful as an aesthetic category to the fields of moral and political philosophy is its public character as described by Kant. The process of seeking aspects that are shared by the aesthetic, the moral and the political phenomena has to develop from the simultaneous examination of these areas, otherwise one risks running into forced interpretations and possibly infinite regressions, thus compelled to endlessly distinguish one field of enquiry from the other.

In Kant’s aesthetics, the experience of the beautiful consists of the free play between understanding and imagination. By free play (das freie Spiel der Einbildungskraft und Verstand) he means the conceptually un-determined interplay between these two mental faculties in aesthetic experience. Beyond his strict terminology the essence of what Kant claims is that judgments of taste equally belong to the conceptual and the sensual realms.3

By clarifying that judgments of taste reflect upon the subjective experience of the interplay between understanding and imagination, Kant implicitly describes taste as a space for freedom. It is this inherent freedom of aesthetic experience that Friedrich Schiller joins in with by defining the beautiful in the Kallias Letters and taking it further in the Aesthetic Education of Mankind in a Series of Letters as freedom in the appearance (Freiheit in der Erscheinung).

The present enquiry argues that in the Kantian context, the freedom inherent in taste consists of disinterestedness, which Kant specifies in judgments of taste as a requirement. Furthermore, it is the concept of disinterestedness that links Kant’s aesthetic theory to his moral theory, and it is this concept upon which both Hannah Arendt and Friedrich Schiller attempted to reconstruct a political theory from Kant’s aesthetics. This dissertation is designed to reconstruct the implicit statements their considerations on the relationship between beautiful and good make on moral and political theory. Kant’s claims on the aesthetic phenomena, ← 12 | 13 → as well as Schiller’s and Arendt’s interpretations of those claims as relevant for moral and political philosophy, also display Schiller’s and Arendt’s own assumptions about the relationship between the aesthetic, the moral, and the political phenomena.

The similarity between aesthetics and morality is specified by Kant in different ways and as a relation of different degrees. There are several terms and concepts that appear both in the description of aesthetics and morality: disinterestedness, purpose without purpose, form and autonomy. The list can be continued with other concepts, like plurality, judging, communicability and common sense as the most evident ones. The notion shared between his aesthetic and practical thought is disinterestedness. And the matter this notion bridges in practical and aesthetic thought is freedom.

Given that the reflective judgment which is the basis of judgments of taste is described by Kant as heautonomous rather than autonomous, a simple analogy between moral and aesthetic freedom would be misleading. It can be demonstrated, however, that seen from a higher level of generality Kant’s conception of freedom embraces both moral and aesthetic judgments. The shared matter is not the restricted meaning of autonomy but a broader conception of freedom. The key to the all-embracing sense of freedom that covers both moral and aesthetic theory – the transcendental foundation of what Kant means by freedom at all – is disinterestedness. This can be discerned from the role the pair of concepts interestdis-interest play in Kant’s moral theory, as well as from the role disinterestedness plays in his aesthetic theory.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (October)
Kant’s aesthetics Arendt on Kant Schiller on Kant Judgments of taste Freedom and taste Morality and taste
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 166 pp.

Biographical notes

Mihály Szilágyi-Gál (Author)

Mihály Szilágyi-Gál is Assistant professor at the Institute for Art Theory and Media Studies, Eötvös Lóránd University of Sciences in Budapest. His areas of research are focused on modern political and moral philosophy with special focus on freedom of expression and political rhetoric.


Title: Hannah Arendt and Friedrich Schiller on Kant’s Aesthetics
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168 pages