Kant's "Aesthetic Idea": Towards an Aesthetics of Non-Attention


  • Frederik Tygstrup




Aesthetic Theory, Aesthetic Idea, Aesthetic Experience, Derrida


In Critique of Judgment, Kant introduces a foundational theme in modern aesthetics by identifying the judgment of taste as a particular mode of attention. In distinction to the mode of attention in mundane experience that works by determining how an intuition can be subsumed under a concept, aesthetic attention celebrates the pleasure associated with the “unison in the play of the powers of the mind” confronted with “the manifold in a thing.” Aesthetic attention, in other words, is an aesthetic subject’s attention to itself and to the pleasures derived from flexing the power of imagination. In this respect, Kant’s aesthetics reaffirms its cartesian core, the primordial positing of the thinking and reflective I as the necessary preposition for experience. This strict distribution of attention toward the secure epistemological architecture of object and subject seems to vacillate, however, in Kant’s brief discussion of artworks as purveyors of “aesthetic ideas.” This article discusses the de-limitation of attention instigated by the aesthetic idea. The aesthetic idea is associated with the artwork as an object, but it immediately transgresses the limits of the object through an array of analogical instantiations of “spirit.” On the other hand, aesthetic ideas are subjectively appreciated, but this appreciation similarly transgresses subjective cognition in an inexhaustible ramification of associative thinking. Developing these characteristics of the “aesthetic idea,” the article proposes to excavate from Critique of Judgment a mode of aesthetic sensibility that eventually challenges the Cartesian architecture of subject and object and thus reposits aesthetics in a field of relational interdependency.

Author Biography

Frederik Tygstrup

Frederik Tygstrup is professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Copenhagen and director of the New Carlsberg Foundation Research Centre Art as Forum.


Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, translated by Paul Guyer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 189, https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511804656.

Michel Chaouli, “A Surfeit in Thinking: Kant’s Aesthetic Ideas,” The Yearbook of Comparative Literature 57 (2011).

Theodor W Adorno, Kants “Kritik der reinen Vernunft”, Hg. Rolf Tidemann (Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1995).

Jacques Derrida, “Economimesis,” Diacritics 11, vol. 2 (1981): 7, https://doi.org/10.2307/464726.

Henry Allison, Kant’s Theory of Taste (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

Günter Figal, Aesthetics as Phenomenology: The Appearance of Things, translated by Jerome Veith (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010).




How to Cite

Tygstrup, F. (2023). Kant’s "Aesthetic Idea": Towards an Aesthetics of Non-Attention. The Nordic Journal of Aesthetics, 32(65). https://doi.org/10.7146/nja.v32i65-66.140115