Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Stanley Cavell on Arguing About the Beautiful

From "Aesthetic Problems of Modern Philosophy", by Stanley Cavell, in Must We Mean What We Say? (Cambridge, 1969), pp. 88-89:
Kant goes on immediately to distinguish two kinds of "aesthetical judgments," or, as he calls them, judgments of taste; and here, unfortunately, his influence trickled out. The first kind he class the taste of sense, the second the taste of reflection; the former concerns merely what we find pleasant, the latter must -- logically must, some of us would say -- concern and claim more than that. And it is only the second whose topic is the beautiful, whose role, that is, would be aesthetic in its more familiar sense. The something more these judgments must do is to "demand" or "impute" or "claim" general validity, universal agreement with them; and when we make such judgments we go on claiming this agreement even though we know from experience that they will not receive it. (Are we, then, just willful or stupid in going on making them?) Kant also describes our feeling or belief when we make such judgments -- judgments in which we demand "the assent of everyone," although we cannot "postulate" this assent as we could in making an ordinary empirical judgment -- as one of "[speaking] with a universal voice." That is the sort of thing that we are likely nowadays to call a piece of psychology, which is no doubt right enough. But we would take that to mean that it marks an accidental accompaniment of such judgments; whereas Kant says about this claim to universal validity, this voice, that it "so essentially belongs to a judgment by which we describe anything as beautiful that, if this were not thought in it, it would never come into our thoughts to use the expression at all, but everything which pleases without a concept would be counted as pleasant." ... Kant seems to be saying that apart from a certain spirit in which we make judgments we could have no concepts of the sort of thing we think of as aesthetic.
Ibid., pp. 91-92:

...let us adapt Kant's examples to a form which is more fashionable, and think of the sort of reasons we offer for such judgments:

A: Canary wine is pleasant.
B: How can you say that? It tastes like canary droppings.
A: Well, I like it.
A: He plays beautifully doesn't he?
B: Yes; too beautifully. Beethoven is not Chopin.

Or he may answer:

B2: How can you say that? There was no line, no structure, no idea what the music was about. he's simply an impressive colorist.

Now, how will A reply? Can he now say: "Well, I liked it?". Of course he can; but don't we feel that here that would be a feeble rejoinder, a retreat to personal taste? Because B's reasons are obviously relevant to the valuation of performance, and because they are arguable, in ways that anyone who knows about such things will know how to pursue. A doesn't have to pursue them; but if he doesn't, there's a price he will have to pay in our estimate of him. Is that enough to show it is a different kind of judgment? We are still in the realm of the psychological. But I wish to say that the price is necessary, and specific to the sorts of judgments we call aesthetic.

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