Aesthetic Judgement After de Duve: Or, What, Exactly, did Kant ‘Get Right’?

Wednesday, 02 November 2022, 17:00-19:00

Senate House, Room 243

*Please note the time change for this session*


Thierry de Duve is one of very few leading figures in recent art theory to make Kant’s aesthetics central to their theory of contemporary art. But de Duve’s use of Kant is both idiosyncratic and controversial: he proposes that to make Kant productive for contemporary debates about art, his aesthetics needs to be updated in the light of subsequent art historical developments, notably the readymade. When confronted by a readymade, we are asked to judge its standing as art, not its beauty. Taking this lesson to heart, de Duve suggests we substitute the word ‘art’ for every occurrence of the word ‘beauty’ in the third Critique and draw the consequences for Kant’s argument. In making this case, de Duve also appeals to Saul Kripke’s understanding of proper names as rigid designators to flesh out what it would mean to confer what (he claims) is the name ‘art’ on any artefact or event judged accordingly. This is—to put it weakly—an unusual and heterodox set of claims that have yet to receive sustained philosophical attention: more orthodox Kantians typically do not know what to make of them, and contemporary art historians lack the training to interrogate them. Doing so minimally involves figuring out what exactly de Duve believes Kant ‘got right,’ and whether this is a) plausible as a reading of Kant, or b) philosophically coherent independently of Kant. It also involves asking c) whether appealing to Kripke helps or hinders Duve’s cause.


Following NHS guidance, all attendees are strongly encouraged to be vaccinated (including boosters) against Covid-19, unless medically exempt. Face coverings are still encouraged, especially in classrooms. Our group is diverse; please continue to be considerate of those who wear face coverings and those who don’t. Thank you.