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Hannah Arendt and Friedrich Schiller on Kant’s Aesthetics

The Public Character of the Beautiful

Mihály Szilágyi-Gál

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.

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Kant’s philosophy is a philosophy of knowing ourselves rather than knowing the world. He warns us that it is semantically impossible to talk about the world if the world does not even appear in our discourse as a postulate, but he does not draw any kind of conclusive empiricist statement from this. He therefore approaches reality with a permanent as if, which offers a hypothetical character to his statements. Hence his epistemological, moral and aesthetic formalism, which aims at specifying conditions rather than offering actual solutions. This is the reason why we do not find final conclusions regarding the actual content of reality, good and beautiful. We find however the analysis of the way in which we approach these questions.

In The Critique of Judgment, the matter that bridges morality and aesthetics, good and beautiful, and leads to the common thesis the book entails on thinking judging and acting is freedom. The link that establishes an identical role for freedom in both aesthetic and moral phenomena is the idea of self-imposed law – freedom as autonomy. The idea of autonomy is shared, both by moral actions and judgments of taste; it equally appears in the judgments aimed at the appraisal of aesthetic as well as moral values. The central notion which establishes the impact Kant’s concept of freedom as autonomy has both upon his ethics and his aesthetics is the notion of disinterestedness.

The common stance Kant, Schiller and Arendt undertake with regard to the...

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