“Truth and Beauty. Aesthetic normativity in the Kantian tradition”

The underlying question motivating this paper is whether and how aesthetic normativity can inform our understanding of normativity more broadly understood. I approach the question by analyzing the different dimensions of normativity involved in aesthetic experience and art as understood by the Kantian tradition. In this tradition, the sense of aesthetic normativity is twofold: First, there are norms for the particular relationship between work and audience. The artwork is experienced as normative in that we recognize it as demanding a particular appreciative response from us. I call this aspect of aesthetic normativity relational, as it describes the form of the relation I stand in vis-à-vis the work. It is this form that is expressed by the Kantian aesthetic judgment “this is beautiful”. Second, the artwork also manifests a different kind of normativity because it makes a claim about meaning. Common to the Kant’s successors (albeit with individual differences) is the thought that the artwork is normative in that it proposes a way of being and living. I call this second aspect of aesthetic normativity practical, as it proposes that an artwork is a kind of standard, in light of which particular ways of living and understanding are meaningful.

On the basis of this analysis, I intend to argue for the following: First, these two dimensions of aesthetic normativity could model different approaches to normativity in general: the relational sense of normativity shows that norms can be given to me in virtue of me standing in a certain relationship. The practical sense of normativity suggests that norms can have their basis in a paradigm or ideal; that is, that a particular can be the source of a shared, practical normativity. What is potentially controversial is that in both cases, these sources of normativity cannot be explicated by appeal to concepts of rules or further reasons. Second, contemporary discussions in aesthetics typically explicitly reject the latter, practical normativity or think it unwarranted, thus diminishing the importance of art.