Painting’s Figural Territory: An Impossible Refrain


In the Critique of Judgment (1791), Immanuel Kant investigates the aesthetic category of the beautiful. The text is, rather infamously, linked to his other philosophical works by way of the “supersensible” or thing-in-itself. In a section of his Third Critique, Kant grappled with taste as a judgment that is subjective yet relies on a sensus communis. This gives rise to the antinomy of taste and the notion that the judgment of art is based on concepts (such as common sense) and yet is subjective. His argument has been shown to owe something to the Monadology of Leibniz and his philosophy of pre-established harmony of perspective, though this does not reduce Kant’s antimony of taste to a footnote to Leibniz’s teleology. According to Kant, the “thing-in-itself” supplies the indeterminate concept grounding aesthetic judgment. Kant’s so-called “supersensible” is the concept of purpose and design in things and the universe that resides implicitly or is enfolded in every consciousness. Individuals confronted with what they take as the universally beautiful are understood to recognize that universality by way of this inner sense of purpose, which Kant equates with his “moral law within.” When Kant makes this argument, relying heavily on Leibniz, he appears to claim that the experience of art is irrational and non-discursive.

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