Self-Standing Beauty: Tracing Kant’s Views on Purpose-Based Beauty

Southwest Philosophy Review 35 (1):7-16 (2019)
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In his recent article, “Beauty and Utility in Kant’s Aesthetics: The Origins of Adherent Beauty,” Robert Clewis aims to offer a fresh perspective on Kant’s views on the relation between beauty and utility. While, admittedly, a fresh approach is hard to come by, given the extensive treatment of the topic, Clewis thinks that a study of its historical context and origins might give us the needed edge. The most interesting and novel aspect of Clewis’s discussion is his detailed treatment of Kant’s changing use of the term “selbstständig” (which in general means “independent,” “self-standing,” “stable,” “lasting,” “self-subsisting”). In the process of tackling the more general question as to what kind of eighteenth-century model of beauty-utility relation Kant proposes, Clewis addresses other issues, such as the seeming inconsistency between Kant’s earlier and later views on free and purpose-based beauty. As noted in the editor’s footnote of the Critique of the Power of Judgment (KU), while Kant uses the term “selbstständig,” in his precritical period to refer to “purpose-based beauty” (what he calls in the KU adherent or dependent beauty), he uses the same term to denote free beauty (independent beauty, that is to say) in the KU.1 Clewis argues that even though Kant uses the same term to refer to both dependent and independent beauty, albeit in different periods of his life, this switch in the application of the term is not caused by a change in the meaning of the term from Kant’s perspective, but a change in Kant’s views concerning the status of free beauty. I agree with Clewis that Kant did not change his mind about the meaning of the term “selbstständig.” Nevertheless, I disagree with the line Clewis pursues.I will argue that Clewis’s mistake lies in thinking that, throughout his career, Kant endorsed what he calls the “blocking-unifi cationist” view on the relation between beauty and utility (“beauty and perfection/utility are distinct concepts yet can be united or unifi ed” (2018, p. 309)). As I will show, this mistake results in an inconsistent story about Kant’s aesthetics as well as an inconsistency within Clewis’ own argument. I will try to articulate a more consistent story about the development of Kant’s ideas on aesthetics in general and his ideas on adherent beauty in particular by proposing that, contra Clewis, earlier Kant subscribed to what Clewis calls the “containment” account (beauty is a form of perfection) while the later Kant changed his mind (having given up on rationalism) and came to defend a version of “blocking-unificationist” view.



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Emine Hande Tuna
University of California, Santa Cruz

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