Book Review: The Problem of Free Harmony in Kant’s Aesthetics
A review of Kenneth Rogerson’s The Problem of Free Harmony in Kant’s Aesthetics
Kant claims that the experience of beauty rests on what he calls a “harmony,” or a “free play” of the faculties of imagination and understanding, punctuated by pleasure. Famously, this free play is supposed to be “without concept” (§9, 5:217-9; 102-4). In his new book, Kenneth Rogerson argues that “only the doctrine of beauty as the expression of ideas gives Kant a plausible explanation of how we can see objects of beauty as free harmonies” (p. 3). The novelty of Rogerson’s approach is twofold. First, he argues that aesthetic ideas can explain not only artistic, but also natural beauty. Second, he stresses the importance of expression: both nature and art talk to us, as it were, and thereby bring about the free play of our faculties. Rogerson bases his solution to the problem of the concept-less harmony on a sharp distinction between concepts and ideas. Since his solution involves ideas rather than concepts, it meets Kant’s “no-concept” requirement head on: “an artwork (or natural object) that can be interpreted as expressing an aesthetic idea will accomplish this expression via a mental state that is free of concepts and yet orderly due to the fact that it expresses an idea” (p. 3).