The Moral Efficacy of Aesthetic Experience: Figures of Meaning in the Moral Field

Critical Horizons 11 (3):397-417 (2010)
Abstract
This paper proposes to analyse the process that makes paths of action meaningful. It argues that this process is one of ‘figuration’. The term ‘figuration’ intends to outline how the experience of moral meaning is one that already positively marks out a field and to identify and analyse the mechanisms used for such marking and selection. It is my contention that these mechanisms predate the persuasion to a moral path; they are the process through which this path is constructed as meaningful. This thesis is elucidated through an analysis of the tactics of meaning in Kant’s moral theory. Kant turns to aesthetics as a means of corroboration for his moral theory, but he also attempts to limit the scope of the interactions between his aesthetic and moral theory. For instance, when he writes on the topic of form in aesthetic taste or outlines the technical specifications of aesthetic judgment, it is arguably the arcane peculiarities of his system that are met. For this reason, Kant insists on the merely analogical relations between beauty and morality. However, it is also possible to see how certain aspects of Kant’s aesthetic theory execute wider, and potentially more important, functions for his practical philosophy, such as providing meaningful orientation for the ascetic moral attitude of his duty-ethics. In this respect, certain figures of Kant’s aesthetic theory may well be viewed as complementing the dependence in his moral philosophy, in the important sections on moral pedagogy and methodology, on appeals to heroic models and stories as ways of shaping and inculcating the moral disposition. This paper considers these aspects of interaction between Kant’s aesthetic and moral philosophies as both 1) a problem for the consistency of his philosophy given his avowed exclusion of aesthetic and religious elements of meaning in his duty-ethics; and 2) as a case study for the new, schematic analysis of ‘moral figuration’ outlined in the paper
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