Two objects, he says in a noble passage, awoke his supreme reverence,—the starry heavens above and the moral law within. What he really wanted to find was a final cause or purpose of the world which would at once justify the reasonings of the mind and the activities of the will. The Critique of Judgment cannot be said to have been a part of his original plan. But when engaged on a treatise on Taste, the idea of a final cause which he discovered to be the key to the consciousness of the beautiful and the sublime, suggested the thought that the same teleological idea might be extended to the whole system of things, and thus the gulf which seemed to separate the Critique of Pure Reason from the Critique of Practical Reason might be bridged over by a third Critique, the object of which would be to unite in one systematic unity all the elements of our consciousness.
The Critique of Judgment, therefore, deals with two topics somewhat casually bound together (yet the one really a particular case of the other)—a theory of Taste, and an examination of the value of Teleology in Physical Science and in Moral Theology.
(1) The Critique of Aesthetic Judgment, as the first part of the work is entitled, deals with the notions of the Beautiful and the Sublime. Suggested to some extent by Burke's Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas on the Sublime and Beautiful, and influenced by Lessing and Mendelssohn, Kant's analysis laid the foundation for a philosophy of Art. What is the Beautiful? In defining it Kant distinguishes the Beautiful from the Agreeable and the Good. The Beautiful is that which pleases, not because of sensuous desire like the Agreeable, nor through conformity with reason like the Good, but solely of itself, by its very nature. It is, in one word, the object of disinterested Pleasure. It is quite distinct from all ideas of utility, and free from all admixture of social interest or personal desire. We pronounce an object to be beautiful when imagination freely groups its forms and outlines in such a way as to exhibit an unsought symmetry, as if some intelligence had guided the moulding hand of fantasy. Beauty may be said to be realized by the harmony of Sensibility and Understanding, and it claims universal assent.
While the Beautiful signifies a rest in the play of the faculties, the Sublime is created through the medium of a painful feeling of inadequacy. An object is styled "Sublime" when the imagination fails to grasp in a whole the mass of details which it suggests, or when the feeling of its overwhelming power, as compared with our weakness, suggests the thought of our littleness or inability. The Sublime is the great, that which surpasses all else we know, and in the contemplation of which, by its very infinitude, we feel pain. This sense of the sublime is really a quality in ourselves rather than in the object, and it bespeaks the greatness of man that he can conceive it. The infinite alone is absolutely great, and that is properly only in ourselves. The sublime in nature is but a reflection of our own minds. By the very check given to the imagination we are reminded that we have a power of thought or an ideal nature which sensuous knowledge can never attain to, and which physical terror can never overpower. The sense of sublimity presupposes even more than the sense of beauty, a susceptibility to ideas, and implies some degree of moral culture. It can only be felt by noble minds. But, like the beautiful, it claims universal assent—not as a right which can be enforced by argument, but as an acknowledgment which all must yield whose judgment has not been perverted or dulled.
"Nature," says Kant, "was found beautiful when it looked at the same time as if it were Art; and Art can only be called beautiful if we are conscious that it is Art and it yet appears to us as if it were Nature."
The love of Art is not a sign of moral goodness, but interest in the beauty of nature indicates the presence of beauty in the soul.
What produces beauty in nature is a mystery. But in Art, genius, whose characteristics are originality and inspiration, would seem to be the prime creative power. Genius has the power of giving universality to the particular and producing in the realm of Art what aesthetic judgment must assent to. Genius exhibits aesthetic ideas, and it is the function and gift of the artist to give utterance to those thoughts or feelings of ordinary people which they see to be beautiful or sublime when so expressed. Everything short of what is nauseous may be made beautiful by artistic rendering.
But not only does genius invest common things with a beauty they did not seem to have; it has also the power of disentangling the ideal from the real, or, in other words, of giving a sense of infinity to the particular. Thus it is the peculiar touch of genius, by a line of poetry or a stroke of the brush, to expand the imagination and suggest deeper meanings than are actually formulated in the particular poem or picture. This power of prolonging and expanding images of beauty, Kant calls "the Exhibition of Aesthetic."
Thus in the beautiful as well as the sublime, in the beauty of Art not less than in the beauty of Nature, the act of judgment forces us to refer to "the undefined idea of the supersensible" in order to explain the mysterious sympathy between our powers of knowledge and the nature of their objects.
But to feel the influence of beauty and sublimity there are conditions of mind and heart necessary. To create or appreciate beauty a sense of peace and harmony must pervade us. Passion must be stilled. Hence the right training for the purification of taste is to develop ethical ideas and cultivate the moral feelings." Taste is a faculty of judgment by which we discern moral ideas embodied in sensuous forms."
(2) The Critique of Teleological Judgment, the second part of the criticism, deals with the idea of Design, and, therefore, serves to connect the theoretic with the moral philosophy. The underlying idea is that of an intellect for which universal conceptions are not mere abstractions, which are only formally connected with particulars, but are really a comprehensive principle by which the various parts of nature are related and unified.
Observation alone affords no evidence of design, because an end or purpose cannot be perceived in an object, and can only be thought into it.
The theory of Natural Science can only be mechanical. End (Zweck) is not a category of objective knowledge, and all explanations of nature consist in pointing out the causal necessity with which one phenomenon produces another. But, on the other hand, there are some products of the world which cannot be accounted for by mechanical laws, and which demand for their explanation the theory of final causes.
Final Cause is that quality in an object in virtue of which it is the cause of itself. Life is inexplicable by merely mechanical causes. The adaptation which we find, therefore, in the higher organisms of nature we are obliged to assume to be everywhere, although we cannot immediately discern it.
Adaptation may be said to be of two kinds, external and internal.
External Adaptation is always relative, designating merely the utility of one thing for another. For example, the sand of the sea shore is favourable to the growth of pine trees, or the earth affords the necessary nourishment for animal life. These are examples of external adaptation. Such results are, as far as we can see, merely arbitrary or accidental. They do not express the inner nature of the thing.
Internal Adaptation, on the other hand, is intelligible per se—quite apart from any notion of use. The organic products of nature (life, growth, etc.) are so constituted that their several parts act and react upon each other. All are necessary to the whole, and necessary to one another. Each part of the organism is at once cause and effect. Living bodies are not like machines. They have creative or formative power. They are not explicable on mechanical principles. They are what Kant calls teleological or purposeful.
It is true we cannot prove this principle of adaptation in nature generally, for the mind always proceeds from particulars, but we are driven to assume it as the only true explanation of the world. For, in the first place, this seemingly contingent world can only be determined in relation to a self which imposes on it its own idea of unity; and, in the second place, in virtue of the moral law we are obliged to regard ourselves not merely as ends to ourselves, but also as ends to all nature. In other words, the moral law, which imposes an ideal upon us and assures us of a self-determinative power, makes us regard all nature as a means to the realization of our moral nature. The moral law must, therefore, be the nature of God, the absolute Being, and must reveal itself without as well as within us. Man is forced to regard himself as the end of all things. And if it seems that on account of his sensuous nature, nature does not always treat him as an end, but simply as a natural thing, still the idea of the Summum Bonum to which his moral life points leads him to conceive a mind in which the opposition between spirit and nature is harmonized, and all things have their necessary purpose, and adaptation to all others and to the world as a whole.
Kant's teleological views lead naturally to his views of religion. In his theory of method Kant states the task of philosophy to be the answering of three questions: what can I know ? what ought I to do? and what may I hope? The first is theoretical, the second practical, and the third the union of both. All three Critiques, the three great divisions of Kant's philosophy, lead to the same conclusion, viz.—that God is at once the final cause and ultimate ground of all being. But, now, if God is, there is a final question—What may I hope, if I do as I ought? This question leads Kant to present his philosophy of religion, which he does in his work, Religion within the Limits of Pure Reason.
Religion, according to Kant, can only come after Morality. It must not determine Morality, but be determined by it, for the idea of God arises only in connection with the idea of the chief good.
The basis of all religion is the freedom of the Will, and the sum of religion is Morality. There is no place for love, nor must we be actuated by fear or hope. Law must be supreme.
Good and Evil contend in the human heart. Evil lies in something which is before any action, yet it cannot operate without our choice. The real hindrance to good is the deceitfulness of the heart, which is another name for original Sin (Urböse).
This self-deceit is the foul blot in our race disturbing the moral judgment. Man is not created good, but to be good. The New-birth is the reversal of the original propensity of our nature. Man's whole worth rests on his power to obey the moral law. To awaken enthusiasm for the law is the truly moral means of confirming men in Good.
In his scheme there is no room for the supernatural in the usual sense. We may admit the possibility of miracles, but must and do act as if everything depended on ourselves. Prayer should do no more than ask submission and conformity to God's will.
Christianity is the only religion that can effect the moral reformation of man. As the Founder of it, Jesus is to be honoured, both in His life and teaching. The Gospels are the highest embodiment of this pure religion. Revelation is possible, but only of things which men are capable of knowing by their own reason. Scriptural truths must rest not on historical but upon moral evidence alone. The purpose of the Scriptures is to teach the religion of reason.
The Son of God is simply Humanity—the ideal Humanity, which is the only worthy divine goal of Creation— the Image of God's Glory. Only by our acceptance of this idea, and our endeavour to be incorporated in this Humanity, can we be the Sons of God. Saving faith is the belief in the perfect ideal, not in the historical fact of Christ's Life.
From these principles Kant deduces the idea of the Church—the Community of believers—a Society which exists for the mutual help of men in the practice of virtue. The bond of the moral commonwealth must not be outward, but ethical; the basis of it is the moral order, and the goal, the Kingdom of God. Ordinances and observances, though not really a service of God, have their educative use. "Dogma has value only as it has moral core." The Doctrine of the Trinity contains no significance for the practical life. It matters not whether there be three or ten persons in the Godhead. Thus what in Hegel was the very rationale of God's Being and the essential basis of religion is in Kant a matter of no moment. The object of every creed is to prepare the way for the faith of reason. Moral conduct and not belief is the essential thing in religion.
The history of the Church has been the conflict between superstition and reason. The preponderance of ritual over reason leads to priestcraft and idolatry. The aim of the treatise is to reconcile his moral theory with the fundamental conceptions of Christianity. The effort is not very successful. Religion is a merely external thing in his system, and God stands outside his theory of life. Indeed, it may be said that just as Kant's individualism limited his conception of the social and political life, so it has limited and impaired his view of religion. He never really gets over the duality of Good and Evil, which is the counterpart of the duality of the intelligible and sensible world, the world of reason and of things.
In two respects Kant stands pre-eminent among the thinkers of all time. He has given the most thorough analysis of the human mind that has ever been offered, and he has propounded the idea of duty with an earnestness that has seldom been equalled. The Critique of Pure Reason represents the greatest revolution that has ever taken place in the realm of speculation, while the Critique of Practical Reason marks a new epoch in moral philosophy. In Kant, as one has said, "Reason has come to herself."
The object of Kant, in the theoretic realm, was to abolish the distinction which previous philosophy had assumed between subject and object, not by suppressing one of the factors, but by showing that thought and things are really related in all our thinking. But though Kant, as against Hume, vindicates a certain reality for knowledge, it is still not a knowledge of realities. In place of the old dualism he creates a new dualism, between the phenomenon and the noumenon. There is a world of things in themselves to which the mind cannot penetrate.
But it must at least be said that Kant has given to the problem a wholly new form, so that the old bald individualism of Locke or Leibnitz is no longer possible. He has shown that thought by its very action establishes a synthesis in which both subject and object are inseparably related. Kant has for ever vindicated for the mind the chief function in creating our world, and his permanent achievement is the revolution he has effected in our notion of what constitutes reality and his pointing out the direction in which the solution of the problem is to be sought.
In the practical sphere also Kant's influence is scarcely less marked. Against utilitarianism in all its forms he raises a powerful protest.
His moral theory is grand, if somewhat stern. He proclaims the universality of reason as the distinctive element in man as opposed to the transient phases of appetite, which he shares with the lower animals. In laying emphasis on duty as opposed to inclination, Kant has exposed himself to the reproach of asceticism and negativism which some of his critics have cast upon his theory. There is ground for the charge. At the same time, it must be remembered that asceticism and self-denial are a necessary stage in the moral life both of the individual and of the race. All spiritual progress consists in subordinating the lower to the higher. But the defect of the ascetic theory is,—a defect from which Kant's doctrine is not wholly free,—that it treats this aspect of the moral life as final. Self-realization cannot consist in mere resistance to desire alone. For that would be to set up one part of human nature against another. It would be to assume that the natural impulses have no justification, and only exist to be crushed out. Such a theory would make virtue depend for its very existence on continued resistance. The victory of virtue would involve its own destruction.
It is impossible to estimate the enormous impulse which Kant has given to philosophy. The world is his debtor for the infinitely fruitful seeds in which his works abound, and his influence has been exerted in all departments of science, and especially on theology, ethics, and art. Pericles said that "the whole world is the tomb of the great," and in no small degree may it be said of Kant.