The Critique of Aesthetic Judgement: Part One of the Critique of Judgement

Author: Immanuel Kant  | Date: 1790


The faculty of knowledge from a priori principles may be called pure reason, and the general investigation into its possibility and bounds the Critique of Pure Reason. This is permissible although "pure reason," as was the case with the same use of terms in our first work, is only intended to denote reason in its theoretical employment, and although there is no desire to bring under review its faculty as practical reason and its special principles as such. That Critique is, then, an investigation addressed simply to our faculty of knowing things a priori. Hence it makes our cognitive faculties its sole concern, to the exclusion of the feeling of pleasure or displeasure and the faculty of desire; and among the cognitive faculties it confines its attention to understanding and its a priori principles, to the exclusion of judgement and reason, (faculties that also belong to theoretical cognition,) because it turns out in the sequel that there is no cognitive faculty other than understanding capable of affording constitutive a priori principles of knowledge. Accordingly the critique which sifts these faculties one and all, so as to try the possible claims of each of the other faculties to a share in the clear possession of knowledge from roots of its own, retains nothing but what understanding prescribes a priori as a law for nature as the complex of phenomena- the form of these being similarly furnished a priori. All other pure concepts it relegates to the rank of ideas, which for our faculty of theoretical cognition are transcendent; though they are not without their use nor redundant, but discharge certain functions as regulative principles. For these concepts serve partly to restrain the officious pretentions of understanding, which, presuming on its ability to supply a priori the conditions of the possibility of all things which it is capable of knowing, behaves as if it had thus determined these bounds as those of the possibility of all things generally, and partly also to lead understanding, in its study of nature, according to a principle of completeness, unattainable as this remains for it, and so to promote the ultimate aim of all knowledge.

Properly, therefore, it was understanding- which, so far as it contains constitutive a priori cognitive principles, has its special realm, and one, moreover, in our faculty of knowledge- that the Critique, called in a general way that of pure reason was intended to establish in secure but particular possession against all other competitors. In the same way reason, which contains constitutive a priori principles solely in respect of the faculty of desire, gets its holding assigned to it by The Critique of Practical Reason.

But now comes judgement, which in the order of our cognitive faculties forms a middle term between understanding and reason. Has it also got independent a priori principles? If so, are they constitutive, or are they merely regulative, thus indicating no special realm? And do they give a rule a priori to the feeling of pleasure and displeasure, as the middle term between the faculties of cognition and desire, just as understanding prescribes laws a priori for the former and reason for the latter? This is the topic to which the present Critique is devoted.

A critique of pure reason, i.e., of our faculty of judging on a priori principles, would be incomplete if the critical examination of judgement, which is a faculty of knowledge, and as such lays claim to independent principles, were not dealt with separately. Still, however, its principles cannot, in a system of pure philosophy, form a separate constituent part intermediate between the theoretical and practical divisions, but may when needful be annexed to one or other as occasion requires. For if such a system is some day worked out under the general name of metaphysic- and its full and complete execution is both possible and of the utmost importance for the employment of reason in all departments of its activity- the critical examination of the ground for this edifice must have been previously carried down to the very depths of the foundations of the faculty of principles independent of experience, lest in some quarter it might give way, and sinking, inevitably bring with it the ruin of all.

We may readily gather, however, from the nature of the faculty of judgement (whose correct employment is so necessary and universally requisite that it is just this faculty that is intended when we speak of sound understanding) that the discovery of a peculiar principle belonging to it- and some such it must contain in itself a priori, for otherwise it would not be a cognitive faculty the distinctive character of which is obvious to the most commonplace criticism- must be a task involving considerable difficulties. For this principle is one which must not be derived from a priori concepts, seeing that these are the property of understanding, and judgement is only directed to their application. It has, therefore, itself to furnish a concept, and one from which, properly, we get no cognition of a thing, but which it can itself employ as a rule only- but not as an objective rule to which it can adapt its judgement, because, for that, another faculty of judgement would again be required to enable us to decide whether the case was one for the application of the rule or not.

It is chiefly in those estimates that are called aesthetic, and which relate to the beautiful and sublime, whether of nature or of art, that one meets with the above difficulty about a principle (be it subjective or objective). And yet the critical search for a principle of judgement in their case is the most important item in a critique of this faculty. For, although they do not of themselves contribute a whit to the knowledge of things, they still belong wholly to the faculty of knowledge, and evidence an immediate bearing of this faculty upon the feeling of pleasure or displeasure according to some a priori principle, and do so without confusing this principle with what is capable of being a determining ground of the faculty of desire, for the latter has its principles a priori in concepts of reason. Logical estimates of nature, however, stand on a different footing. They deal with cases in which experience presents a conformity to law in things, which the understanding’s general concept of the sensible is no longer adequate to render intelligible or explicable, and in which judgement may have recourse to itself for a principle of the reference of the natural thing to the unknowable supersensible and, indeed, must employ some such principle, though with a regard only to itself and the knowledge of nature. For in these cases the application of such an a priori principle for the cognition of what is in the world is both possible and necessary, and withal opens out prospects which are profitable for practical reason. But here there is no immediate reference to the feeling of pleasure or displeasure. But this is precisely the riddle in the principle of judgement that necessitates a separate division for this faculty in the critique- for there was nothing to prevent the formation of logical estimates according to concepts (from which no immediate conclusion can ever be drawn to the feeling of pleasure or displeasure) having been treated, with a critical statement of its limitations, in an appendage to the theoretical part of philosophy.

The present investigation of taste, as a faculty of aesthetic judgement, not being undertaken with a view to the formation or culture of taste (which will pursue its course in the future, as in the past, independently of such inquiries), but being merely directed to its transcendental aspects, I feel assured of its indulgent criticism in respect of any shortcomings on that score. But in all that is relevant to the transcendental aspect it must be prepared to stand the test of the most rigorous examination. Yet even here I venture to hope that the difficulty of unravelling a problem so involved in its nature may serve as an excuse for a certain amount of hardly avoidable obscurity in its solution, provided that the accuracy of our statement of the principle is proved with all requisite clearness. I admit that the mode of deriving the phenomena of judgement from that principle has not all the lucidity that is rightly demanded elsewhere, where the subject is cognition by concepts, and that I believe I have in fact attained in the second part of this work.

With this, then, I bring my entire critical undertaking to a close. I shall hasten to the doctrinal part, in order, as far as possible, to snatch from my advancing years what time may yet be favourable to the task. It is obvious that no separate division of doctrine is reserved for the faculty of judgement, seeing that, with judgement, critique takes the place of theory; but, following the division of philosophy into theoretical and practical, and of pure philosophy in the same way, the whole ground will be covered by the metaphysics of nature and of morals.


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Chicago: Immanuel Kant, "Preface to the First Edition 1790," The Critique of Aesthetic Judgement: Part One of the Critique of Judgement, trans. James Creed Meredith Original Sources, accessed May 19, 2024,

MLA: Kant, Immanuel. "Preface to the First Edition 1790." The Critique of Aesthetic Judgement: Part One of the Critique of Judgement, translted by James Creed Meredith, Original Sources. 19 May. 2024.

Harvard: Kant, I, 'Preface to the First Edition 1790' in The Critique of Aesthetic Judgement: Part One of the Critique of Judgement, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 19 May 2024, from