IV. CRITIQUE OF JUDGMENT, 1790

Kant himself must have been dissatisfied with his arguments, for in a Kritik der Urteilskraft he returned to the problem of mechanism versus free will, and advanced to the conflict between mechanism and design; to which he added complex dissertations on beauty, sublimity, genius, and art. It is not an appetizing brew.

Urteilskraft— the power of judgment—“is in general the faculty of thinking the particular as contained in the universal”; it is the act of bringing an object, idea, or event under a class, or principle, or law. The first Critique had tried to bring all ideas under the a priori universal categories; the second had sought to bring all ethical concepts under a universal a priori moral sense; the third undertook to find a priori principles for our aesthetic judgments—of order, beauty, or sublimity in nature or art.53 “I venture to hope that the difficulty of unraveling a problem so involved in its nature may serve as an excuse for a certain amount of hardly avoidable obscurity in its solution.”54

“Dogmatic” philosophy had attempted to find an objective element in beauty; Kant feels that here, especially, the subjective element is pre-eminent. Nothing is beautiful or sublime but feeling makes it so. We ascribe beauty to any object the contemplation of which gives us disinterested pleasure—i.e., a pleasure free from all personal desire; so we derive aesthetic, but no other, satisfaction from a sunset, a Raphael, a cathedral, a flower, a concerto, or a song. But why do certain objects or experiences give us this disinterested pleasure? Probably because we see in them a union of parts functioning successfully in a harmonious whole. In the case of the sublime we are pleased by grandeur or power that does not threaten us; so we feel sublimity in the sky or the sea, but not if their turbulence endangers us.

Our appreciation of beauty or sublimity is increased by accepting teleology—i.e., by recognizing in organisms an inherent adaptation of parts to the needs of the whole, and by feeling in nature a divine wisdom behind the coordination and harmony, the grandeur and power. And yet science aims at just the opposite—to show that all objective nature operates through mechanical laws, without submission to any external design. How can we reconcile these two approaches to nature? By accepting both mechanism and teleology insofar as they help us as “heuristic” principles—as assumptions that facilitate understanding or research. The mechanical principle helps us most in investigating inorganic substances; the teleological principle serves best in studying organisms. In these there are powers of growth and reproduction that baffle mechanical explanation; there is a visible adaptation of parts to the purposes of the organ or the organism, as of the claws for grasping and of the eyes for sight. It would be wise to recognize that neither mechanism nor design can be shown to be universally true. In a sense science itself is teleological, since it assumes an intelligible order, regularity, and unity in nature, as if a divine mind had organized it and sustains it.55

Kant acknowledged many difficulties in viewing man and the world as products of divine design.

The first thing that would have to be expressly arranged in a system ordered with a view to a final whole of natural beings on the earth would be their habitat—the soil or element on or in which they are intended to thrive. But a more intimate knowledge of the nature of this basic condition of all organic production shows no trace of any causes but those acting altogether without design, and in fact tending toward destruction rather than calculated to promote genesis of forms, order, and ends. Land and sea not only contain memorials of mighty primeval disasters that have overtaken them and all their brood of living forms, but their entire structure—the strata of the land and the coast lines of the sea—has all the appearances of being the outcome of the wild and all-subduing forces of a nature working in a state of chaos.56

And yet again, if we abandon all notion of design in nature we take all moral meaning out of life; life becomes a silly succession of painful births and agonizing deaths, in which, for the individual, the nation, and the race, nothing is certain except defeat. We must believe in some divine design if only to maintain our sanity. And since teleology proves merely a struggling artificer instead of a divine and omnipotent benevolence, we must rest our faith in life upon a moral sense that has no warrant except through belief in a just God. With that creed we may believe—though we cannot prove—that the just man is the final end of creation, the noblest product of the grand and mysterious design.57

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