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Kant's Aesthetics and Teleology

First published Sat Jul 2, 2005; substantive revision Wed Feb 13, 2013
Kant's views on aesthetics and teleology are given their fullest presentation in his Critique of Judgment
(Kritik der Urteilskraft, also translated Critique of the Power of Judgment), published in 1790. This
work is in two parts, preceded by a long introduction in which Kant explains and defends the work's
importance in his critical system overall: in the first part, the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment, Kant
discusses aesthetic experience and judgment, in particular of the beautiful and the sublime, and also
artistic creation; in the second part, the Critique of Teleological Judgment, he discusses the role of
teleology (that is, appeal to ends, purposes or goals) in natural science and in our understanding of
nature more generally. The Critique of Judgment was the third and last of Kant's three Critiques, the
other two being the Critique of Pure Reason (1781, with a second edition in 1787), which deals with
metaphysics and epistemology, and the Critique of Practical Reason of 1788, which, alongside his
Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals of 1785, deals with ethics.
The Critique of Judgment has received less attention than the other two Critiques. One reason is that
the areas of aesthetics and natural teleology have traditionally been considered less philosophically
central than those of ethics, metaphysics and epistemology. Another is that it raises an interpretive
problem which has no analogue in the case of the other Critiques: that is, how to make sense of the
work as a whole given the seeming disparity of the two parts, not only with each other, but also with
the faculty of judgment which is the work's ostensible focus. However, Kant's aesthetic theory has
always been extremely influential within philosophical aesthetics and the philosophy of art, and since
the late 1970s there has been a rapidly expanding literature on Kant's aesthetics within AngloAmerican Kant interpretation. Kant's views on natural teleology, very much neglected in comparison to
his aesthetics, started to receive more attention in the early 1990s, and there has been greatly increased
interest, during the last ten years in particular, both in Kant's view of teleology in its own right, and in
its potential relevance to contemporary philosophy of biology. Moreover, over the last twenty years or
so, more attention has been directed towards the project of interpreting the Critique of Judgment as a
coherent whole. With increased focus on its general philosophical underpinnings, it has come to be
seen not only as significant within the disciplines of aesthetics and philosophy of biology, but also as
playing an important systematic role with respect to Kant's epistemology, metaphysics and ethics, and
indeed, as relevant to contemporary discussions in these, and related, areas.
Kant's aesthetics and teleology together comprise a very wide field, and this article cannot cover all the
relevant topics, nor take account of all the relevant literature. Three limitations should be mentioned.
First, although Kant wrote on aesthetics and teleology throughout his career, this article considers only
Kant's Critique of Judgment (along with the so-called First Introduction, an earlier version of the
Introduction which was not published during Kant's lifetime but which is included with the most
recent English translations of the Critique of Judgment). Second, this article is concerned primarily

with the interpretive and philosophical issues raised by Kant's writings on these topics, as opposed to
historical questions regarding their origin and reception. Third, the article focusses primarily on those
issues which have attracted most attention in the Anglo-American analytic tradition; this is reflected in
the bibliography, which is primarily restricted to works in English, and more specifically from an
analytic perspective. For some references to Kant's writings on aesthetics and teleology other than the
Critique of Judgment, see under Primary Sources in the Bibliography. Some suggestions for secondary
literature dealing with the history and reception of Kant's aesthetics and teleology, and for secondary
literature in English from a less analytic perspective, are given under Secondary Sources in the
Bibliography.