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A theory of the aesthetic appreciation of nature will be well-founded only if it is based on a conception of what it is for appreciation to be aesthetic. If appreciation is understood as consisting in, or at least as being informed by, correct or sound valuation, aesthetic appreciation is, or is permeated by, well-grounded aesthetic valuation, which implies that the basis of a well-founded theory of the aesthetic appreciation of nature will be a conception of what it is for a judgement to be aesthetic. Kant's theory is the most perfect realization of this ideal: his conception of an aesthetic judgement is the theory's foundation; and the classification offered by the theory of different types of aesthetic judgement about natural items is extracted from this conception through reflection on the character of nature. This classification, although somewhat marred by the acceptance of a philosophically conventional taxonomy and, accordingly, incomplete, is, I believe, unsurpassed in the sureness with which basic distinctions are drawn and the various similarities and differences amongst kinds of aesthetic judgement are indicated. Kant's theory is further distinguished by its concern to identify the nature of the pleasures underlying or associated with aesthetic judgements about nature--what exactly these pleasures are pleasures in and what psychological processes or mechanisms give rise to them--and by its articulation and attempted vindication of claims that might be made for these pleasures. But his analyses of the various kinds of aesthetic judgement about natural items and identification of the pleasures on which they are founded are, I believe, not always correct. Furthermore, he fails to establish more than one of the claims he makes about the kinds of pleasure involved in the appreciation of nature. Nevertheless, a firm grasp of the virtues of Kant's theory, which display themselves in an adequate presentation of it, and a realization of its defects, which need to be demonstrated, yield a more profound insight into the aesthetic appreciation of nature than is afforded by any other theory.
For Kant, an aesthetic judgement is a judgement whose `determining ground' cannot be other than `subjective', which means that its determining ground cannot be other than the feeling of pleasure or displeasure (CJ, [sections] 1).(1) What Kant has in mind by an aesthetic judgement is a judgement made about something on the basis of experiencing that thing. His idea is that the nature of your experience of an object provides you with a reason to make a positive or negative aesthetic judgement about the object only if you react to the perception of the object with pleasure or displeasure--your judgement requires this as its ground. In other words, your judgement of something you are experiencing is aesthetic only if your judgement is of such a kind that it must be determined by the pleasurable or unpleasurable nature of your experience of it, so that you would lack any reason to make that judgement on the basis of your experience of the item if you were not to experience it with pleasure or displeasure. This implies that an aesthetic judgement concerns an item's capacity or suitability to provide pleasure or displeasure to someone who experiences it, either to the subject alone or to some wider class--to all adult human beings with normal perceptual capacities, to those with an undeformed human nature, to those who satisfy certain requirements of knowledge, experience, and imagination, to those with a feeling for morality, or whatever. For if the content of an aesthetic judgement did not involve a reference to pleasure or displeasure, it would not be necessary that its determining ground should be the subject's pleasure or displeasure in experiencing the object of the judgement: it is just because an aesthetic judgement asserts the capacity or suitability of an object to give pleasure or displeasure that, given that it must be based on the nature of the subject's experience of the object (independently of other information), the judging subject's experience of pleasure or displeasure must play the crucial role Kant's theory assigns to it.
In accordance with this conception of an aesthetic judgement, Kant distinguishes three non-compound kinds of aesthetic judgement concerning the merely material nature of an object or array of objects as this is apparent in perception, this nature being considered independently of what kind or kinds of object they are. These judgements are not based on concepts of the kinds of things being judged or evaluated: such a judgement about an object does not take into account what kind of object this is an instance of A material object is formed matter: matter that has a boundary, or set of boundaries, however indefinite. Kant identifies, first, an aesthetic judgement about an object's form--a judgement about the pleasantness of its boundary or the set of boundaries of its parts--a pure judgement of taste, the judgement of `free' beauty.(2) Second, he identifies an aesthetic judgement about the perceptual appearance of any constituent(3) of an object's matter--a judgement about the pleasantness of a colour, taste, smell, or sound--the judgement of what is agreeable. Finally, he identifies an aesthetic judgement that is concerned with neither the matter nor the form of an object but, instead, is about boundlessness, boundlessness in extent or power, in or at least occasioned by the matter of the object a subject is faced with--a judgement about the object's suitability to arouse the feeling of the subject's possession of a quality superior to any of mere sensibility, however immense, and in particular to the immensity of what he or she is now confronted by--another pure aesthetic judgement, the judgement of the sublime. Kant maintains that whilst it is not built into a judgement of the agreeable that it claims to be universally valid for human beings--end no such claim on its behalf would be warranted--a claim to universal validity is intrinsic to both judgements of the beautiful and judgements of the sublime; and for that reason, unlike the beautiful and the sublime, Kant assigns no substantial value to the agreeable and has no real interest in it. But although judgements of the beautiful and of the sublime are alike in claiming universal validity, whereas a judgement of the beautiful stands in need of a `deduction', the establishment of its credentials as a bona fide judgement with a non-relative truth value, or the rightfulness of its demand for universal agreement, a deduction that Kant attempts to provide, Kant claims that the `exposition' of a judgement of the sublime makes any further deduction of its credentials redundant.
Each of these kinds of aesthetic judgement can be about, or immediately occasioned by, either a natural object (or array of natural objects) or a product of human artifice.(4) But if the judgement is directed towards what is in fact a natural object, it is not integral to the judgement, or the hedonic state on which it is founded, that the object is, or is experienced as, or as if it were, natural, a fortiori, a natural object of whatever kind it happens or appears to be: the judgement of a natural colour or the colour of a natural object or a naturally produced sound or the taste or smell of a natural substance as being agreeable, the judgement of a natural object's form as being beautiful, the judgement of a natural array or phenomenon as being sublime--none of these is a judgement of its object as being natural. A judgement of free beauty about a flower, say, will be a judgement of the flower that it is beautiful, not a judgement that it is a beautiful flower, or a beautiful morning glory flower (if that is what it is recognized as being): it will be a judgement about what in fact is a flower, but not a judgement of it as being a flower or a flower of a certain type. Likewise, a judgement of the sublime provoked by the star-studded night sky now visible overhead will be a judgement of it, but not as being the natural phenomenon it is or is perceived to be. Accordingly, although an aesthetic judgement of any one of these kinds about nature is a form of aesthetic appreciation of nature--of something that is in fact natural--it does not constitute aesthetic appreciation of nature as nature.(5)
When Kant asserts that a pure judgement of taste is not based on a [determinate](6) concept, he means that the distinctive pleasure of the beautiful, the pleasure in an object that is the basis, or is constitutive, of the object's being experienced as beautiful, the pleasure in it as being beautiful, is not in any way due to the object's being experienced as falling under a concept, to the object's being experienced as being an instance of an empirical kind.(7) Since the judgement concerns only the object's `form', the pleasure arises only from the perceived spatial structure of the object's matter, the spatial relations perceived to obtain among its elements, the way in which its secondary …