|‘All Life is Argument over Taste’: Nietzsche’s Critique of Kant’s Aesthetics in the Genealogy
Nietzsche’s critical remarks about Kant’s aesthetics in the Genealogy are commonly interpreted as proposing a reduction of aesthetic claims to symptoms of interests, drives, or basic attitudes to ‘life’, on the basis of which Kant’s aesthetics is to be dismissed as ‘ascetic’. This paper takes issue with this interpretation, by arguing that it provides neither a persuasive critique of Kant nor an adequate interpretation of Nietzsche’s remarks in the Genealogy. The paper then proposes an alternative interpretation of these remarks, and suggests that this provides a more promising critical approach to Kant’s aesthetics.
The first part of the paper outlines Kant’s account of taste judgements, and defends it against the common interpretation of Nietzsche’s critique. In particular, it argues that Kant’s account does not reflect the ‘asceticism’ to which Nietzsche is commonly supposed to object, and that it even accommodates certain attractive, supposedly un-‘ascetic’ aspects of the reductive position which Nietzsche is commonly supposed to adopt. This part of the paper also suggests that the reductive position presents significant problems of its own, notably regarding its dependence on Nietzsche’s account of ‘ascetic’ interests, drives, or attitudes.
The second part of the paper proposes an alternative interpretation of Nietzsche’s critique, by re-examining his remarks in the Genealogy and their context. It argues that Nietzsche’s concern in the third essay, as in the first and second essays, is with the normative authority of moral judgements, and that ‘ascetic ideals’ are not simply norms which serve ‘ascetic’ interests, drives, or attitudes, but are, more importantly, norms which contravene certain conditions of normative authority for moral judgements. Nietzsche identifies these conditions, and explains how they are contravened, in the second essay, with a distinctively ‘Kantian’ account of the necessary ‘autonomy’ of a moral judgement. The paper proposes, then, that Nietzsche’s critique of Kant’s aesthetics is a moral critique based on a ‘Kantian’ moral philosophy: a critique which alleges that the practice of taste in Kant’s sense is not justifiable on ‘autonomous’ grounds, but insists that an alternative aesthetics can be justified on such grounds. Thus in both criticising Kant’s aesthetics and proposing an alternative, Nietzsche appeals neither to aesthetic grounds nor simply to his account of ‘ascetic’ interests, drives, or attitudes. Nietzsche instead considers the practice of aesthetics, in Kant’s sense and in Nietzsche’s alternative sense, from the perspective of its possible moral justification. Furthermore, the paper argues that the particular nature of Nietzsche’s alternative aesthetics, which his remarks in the Genealogy merely intimate, can be illuminated by his particular account of moral justification, and by his notion of moral ‘requital’ in particular.
The paper concludes by considering the value of such a critical approach to Kant’s aesthetics. In particular, it suggests that, unlike the common interpretation of Nietzsche’s critique, this approach avoids the problems identified in the first part of the paper and raises issues which are internal and crucial to Kant’s own treatment of the relation between his moral theory and aesthetics.
University of Warwick