Thursday, December 5, 2013

Understanding Pure Color and Tone in the Third Critique

In the Critique of the Judgment of Taste, Kant discusses how color and tone can only be beautiful if they are pure.  Whenever I have studied this text on my own and in a group this has caused some confusion, since it is ambiguous what a pure color or tone is.
The typical understanding of this passage in Kant is that Kant means colors that are unmixed, or primary colors, or any solid color, and for tones similarly only a single tone (with no overtones), or one of the tones of the scale.  This interpretation does not work for me, since it clearly involves a quality of the content of the experience that we would be able to put a rule to, e.g., we could specify red blue and green are beautiful.  Since there can be no rules, or reasons, for saying that something is beautiful, this clearly cannot be correct.
Rather than interpreting pure in this case as a quality of the content, I suggest interpreting it in the same way pure is interpreted everywhere else in Kant's system: not containing any empirical content.  But what is color or tone without empirical content?  The answer to this is the same as any case where we remove content: we are left with form.  So, I suggest that we interpret pure color or tone in terms of form.  How do we understand form in this case?
The pure forms of intuition (for the cognition of objects) concern the arrangement of content spatially and temporally.  The form of color or tone will also concern arrangement of content, but not into these extensive and intensive magnitudes of time and space, but into magnitudes that allow us to have differences in color and tone - that arrange the content of sense such that these differences make themselves apparent.

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