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Part 1. The Question of Language
The Place of Language: From
Kant to Hegel
Kant’s third Critique, the Critique of the Power of Judgment, is divided into two
parts: an aesthetic part and a teleological part, both under the general
rubric of purposiveness.1 In the aesthetic part he focuses upon the universal communicability of the peculiar feelings of the beautiful and the
sublime. In the teleological part, when he considers Nature as a teleological system, he proposes that the immanent end of Nature is human
culture built up by communication. Given those foci, language, as the
central mode of communication, should have been a major theme in the
Critique, but it is not.2 In fact, it has no systematic place in Kant’s thought.
The third Critique is founded on a distinction between two types
of judgment: determinative and reflective. Once the conditions for the
possibility of objectivity found in the a priori forms of understanding
within the spatiotemporal frame have been met through the employment of determinative judgment, an indeterminate number of empirical
combinations are encountered for which one seeks the appropriate universals. This shows the interplay between the universal and the particular
that moves in two directions: from the givenness of the a priori universal to find the individuals that can be placed under it in determinative
judgment, and from the givenness of individuals a posteriori to find the
concepts that are appropriate to differing types of individuals in reflective
judgment.3 The Critique of Judgment is dedicated to the second task. As we
noted above, Kant singles out two regions: the aesthetic, within which
he locates the beautiful and the sublime, and the teleological. However,
he omits one prominent set of sensory presentations that belong under
reflective judgment: the presentation of human beings.
His Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View is more promising: his
final section is “On How to Know a Man’s Interior from His Exterior.”4
Here he includes a treatment of gesture, of character (using the template of the traditional four types of temperament), and of racial differences. It is through gestural style that one recognizes such distinctions.
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But even here, what is conspicuous by its absence is the central way by
which human beings present themselves: through language by which one
can clarify to others the meaning of one’s actions and of one’s gestural
style. In the third Critique, reflection upon language is confined to a few
scattered but significant remarks, though it is central to the project as
developed in his last Critique.
I suggest there is a reason for that confinement. Just as, in the ordinary focus of attention, one is not typically aware that one is looking
at sensorily given individuals as instances of types, so transparent is the
apprehension of the types, in the same way, even in reflecting upon the
types as such, one is not typically aware that one is looking at the types as
types through the transparency of language. If the awareness of types and
the explication of the a priori forms require a reflective step back from
our ordinary engagements, the awareness of language requires a further
reflective step back from that. I suggest linking the lack of a significant
place for language in Kant’s thought to his complaint in the first Critique
that it is a scandal philosophers after Descartes have not been able to
find their way out of the confinement of the cogito.5 Neither he, nor anyone else in the traditions following from Descartes up to Rousseau and
Herder, considered language in any extensive sense. But even Descartes
could not carry on the cogito experiment without thinking in linguistic
terms, French or Latin, and thus, in principle, addressing others.
This is not a problem for Hegel: it is language which indicates, as
it did later for Heidegger,6 that, far from being trapped in the cogito, we
are always already outside our inside with others, dealing with things out
there. It is in Hegel that, going beyond Kant, we find the first systematic
placement of language that positions several of Kant’s themes. We will
give an exposition of that placement in the second part of this essay. But
our first task is to mine the several things Kant does say about language
in the third Critique.
To set first the critical framework within which Kant operates, note that
the I think as the transcendental unity of apperception is the center
through which experience over time is gathered together into a consistent whole according to the rules involved in the a priori concepts of the
understanding. The cogito belongs with its objects to the phenomenal
order.7 Nonetheless, in the third Critique, the responsible pursuit of cognition opens beyond that order to freedom, not as a postulate, but as
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the sole noumenal fact,8 for in free acts the same I that thinks chooses in
such a way as to take responsibility for initiating a new causal line. The
causality of freedom is other than the mechanical causality that governs
sensory presentations: it causes through concepts. In the third Critique
Kant explores another notion of causality that mediates between the two
modes of mechanical causality and the causality of freedom, and that anchors the empirical ego in the Here and Now, namely, organic causality.
In order to understand such causality, Kant appeals, as did Aristotle,9 to an analogy with human causality through concepts in which the
concept precedes and guides the action to its telos. The end is already
operative in the sprouting seed. The organism subsumes mechanisms
under its immanent goals. The difference from human agency in the
case of organisms is that each part is reciprocally cause and effect of all
the other parts in a kind of holistic reciprocity in the formation and sustenance of the individual organism, in the sexual relation that sustains the
species, and in the ecosystem. The organic exhibits a systematicity, both
in individual organisms and in what we would today call the ecosystem.10
Kant goes further. As reason is the drive towards totality both in relation to the sensory and beyond, we are naturally inclined to extend teleological causality to the Whole, both of the presentations of nature and of
the super-sensuous Beyond. Since only humans can set goals freely, Kant
interprets the whole of nature as finding its end in the development of
human culture under the guidance of the notion of a Kingdom of Ends
(§82, KU, AA 5:427). He further finds a natural tendency to underpin
the Whole with the notion of a creative Intelligence (§80, AA 5:421 and
§85, AA 5:436–39). Finally, the incompleteness of human happiness, conceived of as the coincidence of the feeling of fulfillment with moral desert, appears to be an indicator of a possible afterlife in which we might
be able to reach toward completion. The condition for this is interpreted
as a creative Intelligence that is also an all-just and omniscient Judge—
precisely what, in the West, we have come to call God (§86, AA 5:444). I
want to underscore here that this is hermeneutic and not ontological, meaningful but not known to be factual, providing a rational whole that challenges other hermeneutic readings of human experience as a whole.
But teleology is Kant’s second focus; his first focus is upon aesthetic
experience. Such experience raises us above the merely pleasant to attend to something about nature that seems to address us, in different
ways in the case of the beautiful and the sublime. The beautiful form
brings about a distinctive feeling of harmony between imagination and
understanding, making us feel at home, suggesting that we are meant in
some way by what presents itself as beautiful form (§10, AA 5:220).11 If
the experience of the beautiful shows a harmony between understanding
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and imagination, the presentation of great magnitude of size and power
sets up a tension between imagination and reason, the drive toward totality, that evokes the powerful emotion of awe and seems to point us
beyond our home, awakening in us to the sublimity of our moral vocation (§26, AA 5:251–57). Whereas understanding employs a priori forms
and empirical concepts, reason points us beyond the circle of appearance that, for Kant, is only pierced in one place: that of the autonomous I.
Art emerges from the works of genius as one through whom nature
gives the rule to art (§46, AA 5:307–8). The origin of any artwork lies in
aesthetic ideas that are intuitions to which no concept is adequate (§49, AA
5:314). In treating things exemplified in experience such as love, fame,
death, and envy, imagination, by producing an aesthetic idea, emulates
reason in reaching for a maximum of expression, bringing these things
closer to us. Imagination has its deeper function in linking us meaningfully to those ultimate things we cannot apprehend by cognitive means.
Art and nature are reciprocally tied in that art teaches us to appreciate nature and nature gives the rule to art through the genius (§46,
AA 5:307). Art succeeds in the communication of sensibility, a transconceptual appreciation of aesthetic forms presented both by nature
and by art. This leads to a trans-conceptual development of sociability
that generates talk about matters aesthetic for which no concept is fully
adequate. Kant does not focus upon the role of language in developing
appreciation, nor does he take the next step that will be taken by Hegel
of viewing the necessary incarnation of thought in sensory signs that
emerge in communication as the condition for thought itself.
Let us now consider the places in the third Critique where Kant explicitly
talks about language, though only as subsidiary to other considerations.
We will consider (1) his division of the arts based upon three basic features of language, (2) poetry as linguistic art and, linked to it, music as a
language of feeling, (3) the language of analogy, (4) the sensus communis
as the locus of communication, and (5) the need for linguistic communication in developing cognitive, moral, and aesthetic autonomy.
Language and the Division of the Arts
Prompted by his notion of art as the expression of aesthetic ideas, in his
treatment of the division of the arts, Kant focuses upon three components of language as primordial expression: articulation, gesticulation,
and modulation that he correlates with thought, intuition, and feeling
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respectively, though with scarcely any development (§51 AA 5:321).12 To
articulation belong the arts of speech (oratory and poetry); to gesticulation the visual arts (painting, sculpture, and architecture); to modulation
(music and color art).13 Let us attempt to flesh out his skeletal remarks
here with a view toward Hegel’s overcoming through language of the
confinement of the cogito.
1. Linguistic articulation involves words as conventional empirical
stand-ins for the apprehension of universal meanings by thought. The
word is the empirical outside for which the mental meaning is the inside.
The sensory outside makes available to members of a community the
public meanings discerned by thought, a feature not focused by Kant.
As Hegel will underscore, language sets private subjects into a space of
meaning that takes them each out of their private subjectivity and out of
confinement to the present moment. Thought articulates by abstracting
out the different properties and things observable in the field of experience that it separates and conjoins through syntax, etymologically the
ordering (taxis) together (sun) of words. Poetry and oratory are art forms
that correspond to linguistic articulation because they are linguistic arts.
2. Words, as the semantic component of language, are gestures or
signs that point to the objects of sensory intuition. Painting, sculpture,
and architecture point to their objects. The artist makes the thing itself
speak, as it were, by mime (§51, AA 5:324). Architecture falls under gesture because it points to use.
3. Modulation produces the kind of inner sensations that are felt dispositions awakened by language. Modulation effects the dispositions of
speaker and hearer through speech that functions through the articulation of sound. As Kant noted: every linguistic expression has in its context a tone appropriate to its meaning (§53, AA 5:328). Music and color
art directly induce felt dispositions.
We should also add that any articulated linguistic whole is further
governed by the principle of coherence both internal to the discourse
and in the relation of the discourse to that about which one speaks. We
will shortly recur to that in considering music as a language of affects.
Poetry and Music
Kant considers poetic art, the art of the artistic use of language, the highest form of art because it is maximally communicative: it communicates
both focal linguistic meaning and the feelings that art as such evokes.
It conjoins linguistic reference with an artful focus upon the sonorous
component. Poetry draws upon the dispositional effects of both the
meaning and the tonality of spoken words to which it adds its own tonal-
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ity. Through rhythms, rhyme schemes, alliteration, and the use of metaphors poetry underscores the musical component of speech.
Music itself can be abstractly focused separate from the words to
produce what has been called “absolute music,” music absolved from literal reference. Kant refers to such music when he speaks of musical fantasias, pure aesthetic forms, as examples of free beauty, of beauty not tied
to concepts (§16, AA 5:229). He further speaks of music as a language of
affects (§53, AA 5:328) that is linked to the aesthetic region in general as
one of universal communicability.
The notion of a language of music is clearly a metaphor in which
the parallel lies in the communicative function involved in the dispositional modulation. There is a kind of syntax in music that ties the tones
together through following the harmonic series of tonal relations that
dictates musical coherence and that can be expressed in mathematical
form. But there is only a kind of general semantics insofar as certain
tonal combinations reflect differing types of mood. The moods are not
exact in that the same musical score might accompany differing lyrics.14
Music carries on the essential function of art to communicate sensations
In a tantalizing claim, Kant says that a musical piece is rooted in the
aesthetic idea of a coherent whole of an unspeakable wealth of thought
(§53, AA 5:329). This is a notion that will be picked up as a central focus
in Schopenhauer, who sees music as the most metaphysically revealing.15
But, having offered such a claim, Kant finally places music on the borderline between the beautiful and the merely agreeable (§53, AA 5:329).
The Language of Analogy
We referred to the metaphor as a poetic linguistic device, as a species
of analogy, etymologically considered as according to (ana) a proportion (logos): A is to B as C is to D (KrV, A351). The notion is taken from
mathematical ratios but extended to apply to other ratios. In the first
Critique, the analogies of experience are built on formal logical functions
of definition, implication, and inference that are paralleled by the transcendental logical function of reference. Thus, for example, the logical
subject-predicate relation is paralleled by the relation between substance
and accident.16 Such analogies are matters of necessity in that, in order
to appear as a coherent whole, all experience has to conform to them.
Analogy is extended to proportions found in experience contingently as metaphors and as proportions related to what is necessarily intended but never an object of experience. Kant calls the latter symbols
(§59, AA 5:351). Metaphor involves a comparison and a consequent
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transfer (phorein) of a meaning across (meta) the differences between a
primary analogate, which carries all the features of the original meaning
or analogue, and a secondary analogate that bears some resemblance to
the first. In the analogy, certain characteristics are retained and other
accompanying characteristics are ignored. Richard was called The LionHearted because of his courage and strength that inspired awe, not because he had a mane, a tail, and a hairy hide and went about on all fours.
And the lion was called king of the beasts, not because he wore a crown,
sat upon a throne, and issued edicts, but because all other beasts are beholden to him as he proudly sits in their presence. As a poetic device, the
metaphor not only involves explicit meanings but also draws upon the
emotive associations involved in the primary analogate. Such comparisons occur between objects given within the field of experience.
The other related type of analogy is the symbol. For Kant the symbol
is able to express a relation to the noumenal. It may also apply to items
found in experience, like white as a symbol of innocence, linked to the
contrast between purity and stain. Kant speaks here of a language in which
nature speaks to us which has a higher meaning (§42, AA 5:302). Colors
especially suggest moral qualities. There is a semantics here, but, contrary
to music as a language of affects, no syntactics, no inner relational structures with special harmonic or logical relations between them.17
The deepest employment of symbol is in developing hermeneutic
terms for exploring the super-sensuous (§59, AA 5:351).18 Such terms can
be used to say something meaningful about that regarding which one
can, strictly speaking, have no real knowledge, but to which, nonetheless, we are essentially related through reason as the drive toward totality. Thus the language developed in talking about God or the afterlife
is all symbolic, since for Kant all cognition involves filling the a priori
forms with sensory content, and we have no sensory notion of God as
the super-sensuous. In his Divina Commedia Dante created such symbolic
devices for linking the afterlife with matters found in experience: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. The symbols found for the condition of
people living in the afterlife at each level are linked to their moral failures and successes in this world. As a hermeneutic measure, this brings
the super-sensuous meaningfully close to us without giving us any cognitive content.19
Central to Kant’s analysis of the aesthetic as the basis for the universal
communicability of a sensation is the sensus communis, a common sensibility, as the effect arising from the free play of our cognitive powers
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(§20–22). In providing the element of necessity, the sensus communis
sums up the other aspects of the judgment of the beautiful: its production of disinterested satisfaction raising us above appetite (§2, AA 5:204), its
subjective universality as a unique individual requiring universal assent (§6,
Ak 5:210), and its purposiveness without a purpose as giving mere hint that
we might be meant by the aesthetic form (§11, AA 5:221).
The sensus communis is both a presupposition and an ideal to be
striven for. As a presupposition it is involved in the conditions for the
possibility of cognition in the harmony between imagination and understanding that is felt in the experience of the beautiful and grounds its
subjective universality. It involves an inward distance afforded by the understanding that applies beyond the Here and Now of sensation and sensory feeling against the background of reason’s being oriented toward
the whole of what-is, noumenal as well as phenomenal.20 It is focused
upon the kind of form presented in the sensory that has what it takes to
bring about the peculiar feeling of the beautiful.
Not all feelings are universally communicable. What Kant calls the
agreeable is not (§3, AA 5:205). It is a response to the sensory as such and
not to the peculiar configuration of the sensory he calls the beautiful.
Of the agreeable one could rightly say, different strokes for different
folks, though there might be some things that many or even most people
would appreciate. For example, most people like chocolate, although it
is no fault if one doesn’t happen to share in the liking. But the beautiful
requires a necessary response by all that meet it—not that all would give
it, for the appreciation of the beautiful requires a level of cultivation. It
depends upon a developed ability to attend in a detached way, free from
being driven by appetite, to what makes the claim to be beautiful. One
develops a capacity to discern beautiful form, to judge a given presentation aesthetically. Such a capacity is called taste.
In the experience of the beautiful, what is felt, we said, is a harmony
of the cognitive powers of imagination and understanding required in
all judgments. This involves no passive concord, no simple being satisfied that occurs when an appetite is filled, but a quickening of the sense
of distinctively human life that sets in motion a plethora of concepts involved in speaking about the object without any concept being adequate
to it (§9, AA 5:219). The perception of the beautiful awakens the critical
sense. Aesthetic quickening gives rise to the language of criticism. It is
about such aesthetic form that the critic has to form judgments articulated in language.
As an ideal to be achieved, sensus communis is capable of being cultivated by attention to the models of beauty in each of the aesthetic domains (§60, AA 5:356). As an ideal, sensus communis corresponds to the
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ideal of beauty as a mode of dependent beauty that, for Kant, involves
the ideality of the human form exhibiting moral ideality. It is an ideal
that, for Kant, each person, in the proper exercise of autonomy, has to
form for him/herself (§17, AA 5:231–35).
Forms of Autonomy and Linguistic Communication
Kant develops certain parallels between the cognitive, the moral, and the
aesthetic orders as conditions for the development of autonomy. Though
he does not refer to it, all of the modes of autonomy involve recurrence
to language to relate one’s own thought, decisions, and feelings to others
as a test for the propriety of one’s own mental states.
At the cognitive level, autonomy involves thinking for oneself (Sapere aude: the motto of the Enlightenment). But this is not simply personal vanity, for the second imperative is: think from the viewpoint of
others. And—though he does not say so—that entails actual discourse
whereby one tests one’s own thought in relation to the thought of others.
A third imperative is: think consistently (§40, AA 5:294). This last imperative governs the whole critical procedure, for what one or others think in
isolated propositions has to be measured against the coherence of what
one or others think throughout the whole of experience.21
The three imperatives follow the logical sequence of Unity, Plurality, and Totality.22 Translated into the moral order: the Unity of the categorical imperative is expressed in the principle: so act that the principles
for your action could be made a universal law. Plurality involves how one
applies that to one’s dealing with others: treat humanity, whether in yourself or in others, as an end and not simply a means. Totality is involved in
gathering the particulars into a coherent whole: so act as if by your action
you were to bring about a Kingdom of Ends, the gathering together into
a political whole of all humans as ends in themselves.
In the aesthetic order, the same sequence involves judging for oneself the beauty of what presents itself; judging in such a way that you put
yourself in the position of everyone else; and judging in such a way as to
develop a sensus communis among all men (§40, AA 5:294). Kant does not
spell it out fully, but this is what is entailed in the aesthetic order. In fact,
he introduces the three cognitive imperatives as parallels to aesthetic
judgment in his treatment of the latter.
In all three orders, what is involved is inter-human communication which, though grounded in feelings in the aesthetic order, nonetheless requires linguistic communication as essential mediation.23 Without
speaking to others, we cannot know that we are thinking from the viewpoint of everyone else; nor can we know that we are treating the human-
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ity of all others as an end; nor can we know that we are putting ourselves
in the position of others when judging aesthetically. Without recurrence
to others through language, one might remain locked into subjective
arbitrariness and never know it.
There is a parallel between aesthetic autonomy and artistic originality. Though for Kant, to preserve aesthetic autonomy, one should block
one’s ears regarding what others say about the beauty of a work of art and
see for oneself not directly mediated by their language, one should also
learn from others how to measure one’s own aesthetic response through
dialogue with them. The language of criticism emerges to compare and
assess works of art and to cultivate the taste of a community. Likewise,
the originality of the works of reputed geniuses requires testing against
other works to see if, in addition to the introduction of novelty, they also
exhibit exemplarity. True genius requires developed taste that can only
occur through conversation with others focused upon models that have
arisen in previous history (§50, AA 5:319).
Kant’s treatment of cognitive, moral, and aesthetic autonomy
still takes place within the confinement of the Cartesian cogito. Though
the second imperative in each of the three sets widens the network of
thought to include the point of view of others, it does so only as an internal exercise. What is required is actual conversation with others. And that
is possible because, as Heidegger remarked and Hegel realized before
him, the real scandal is not that we cannot figure out how to get out
of the methodical confinement of the cogito, but that we even thought
that a problem since we are, essentially, Being-in-the-World together with
others, mediated by language. We begin outside our inside engaged with
things and with others. It is this that is central to Hegel’s approach.
As we noted, in Kant, consideration of language only appears in passing,
even though it is central to his focus upon communication in building
towards the Kingdom of Ends. In Hegel language has a central place.
He complains that language has usually been placed in an appendix, as
an afterthought accompanying philosophic exposition. For the first time
in the history of thought, he finds a systematic place for language. It lies
in the work of creative imagination through which Reason lays down
its tracks simultaneously in the sensory and in the inter-human realm.24
Hegel gives focused attention to its grounds in the human subject (§456–
64, Phil. of Mind ).25