An Imaginary Dialogue with Neitzsche – Dialogues with Philosophers In COVID-19 Times” by Saurabh Todariya
Care Consciously! # DEFEAT CORONA

With the lockdown 3.0 life is slowly limping back towards the normalcy, at least in the place where I live. One can now see more traffic and hear more noises on the street. While small grocery shops were always open, the stores too are gradually being opened now. There is a growing faith and confidence in socialisation when you watch people walking together in masks, playing badminton and talking to each other. This reveals that the fear of every other person as a potential COVID carrier is giving way to trust and togetherness. However, the pace of getting back to normal life is rather too slow and, in no way, could be compared to earlier breakneck speed. One still has a lot of time to spend at home. 

Just yesterday was the night of the full moon. I was watching the scenic beauty of the clouds behind the moon. The familiarity of the sky gave me a sense of relief and groundedness. I remember my visit to Kargil in Kashmir a few years back which was mentally exhausting by unceasing sights of the cold desert and the snow. The memories of longing for a familiar grass and plains revisited me. I recall how such strange geography had made me feel gloomy. At that time, it was the beautiful star-studded sky that made me realise how all humans and places are united as the sky appears the same to all. I can be assured that all my near and dear ones are witnessing the same moon even being miles apart in our hemisphere! Such is the wonder of one sky above our heads. Perhaps this wonder is also the start of philosophy!

Amongst the great philosophers to talk about ideas of beauty and aesthetics is Immanuel Kant, who is considered as the most influential Western philosopher in the modern times and without whom no discussion on epistemology or ethics can take place in academia. Apart from his passion for reading and writing philosophy, the three features that mark the course of his life are- punctuality, simplicity, and reticence. 

Kant thought about the beauty more than anyone else in the history of western philosophy, with the possible exception of Aristotle and Schopenhauer. His ideas on beauty, sublime, and reflective judgment are so compelling that even contemporary philosophers engage with it in various ways. No wonder he is the finest person to carry out a discussion on beauty. One can wonder if Kant’s ideas of beauty have origins in his regular walks. The only way to catch Kant was to accompany him during his walk, which he never missed in his lifetime. The only exception was 1789’s French revolution which excited him so much that he had gone to collect a copy of a newspaper to know more about it. Otherwise, the legend goes that people fix their watches in his town by his walk-timings. 

I imagine one such walk with the legend inspired by the lesser known aspect of his writings, aesthetics. 

Me- Hello sir!

Kant (gasping)- Hello

.Me- Sir what I would like to discuss with you is whether the beauty is subjective or objective? 

K- Well, the question of subjective or objective is not correct in this context. We use these terms within the domain of the scientific claims. 

Me- What is beauty then? 

K- Look, first you need to understand how our perception operates in the everyday life…and we need to be patient in developing this understanding.

 Me- All right!

K- See, first the sensory inputs come from the external world. These sensory data are unorganized and chaotic so we need some form to categorize them. For e.g. when you see some creature then immediately your brain registers it as a member of its species. Like if you see some dog then immediately you classify it in the dog family.

Me- Correct.

K- I call this activity of categorisation as judgment in which we classify the particulars into a universal.

Me- Fine. 

K- Our faculty of Judgment organizes the particular experiences into some class and because of it we can differentiate one class from the other. This is the ‘space of reason’. In the absence of this rational capacity, we won’t be able to function at all.

Me- Right. 

K- Ordinarily, we function like this but in the experience of beauty we can’t do that as a beautiful object is not experienced in the way the everyday objects are.

 Me- How?

K- Let me explain by an example. When you see the sunset or a beautiful flower, you don’t say that the sunset or flower is beautiful because it belongs to the class which is the set of either beautiful flowers or sunsets. This would be completely artificial. Rather we find it beautiful and it becomes an example of beauty.

Me- Can you explain it further?

K- See the experience of beauty is not like mentioning a personal choice. If you say I like pizza, you immediately know it as your personal preference. But when you say that Sunrise is beautiful in the Himalayas, you are not talking of your taste. You know that every person with aesthetic sense is going to like it. 

Me- Yes, that’s how it is.

K- Hence I call the judgment of beauty as the Reflective judgment as it arrives out of reflecting on the beauty of the object. 

Me- Reflecting? 

K- Yes. In a way, the experience of beauty is objective. The nature of the object is such that it liberates our imagination from the conceptualisation. Liberated imagination freely creates the object in unique ways without bothering about keeping it under a class. When you see a beautiful pattern in the sky, it feels beautiful because you can’t conceptualise it. 

Me- Exactly.

K- …and this free play between the imagination and conceptualisation gives rise to joy, which is the feature of the aesthetic experience. 

Me- But why you called this joy as the ‘disinterested pleasure’ in your third Critique?

K- Because it has the Purposiveness without a purpose.

Me- Purposiveness without a purpose! What’s  that?

K- See the aesthetic judgment does not have the purpose to classify the beautiful object into a class. It does not keep the beautiful flower or human into the some class, which is the job of conceptualisation. Rather, it frees the imagination. It toys with the object without any purpose, so to say. This disinterestedness produces joy. Hence, I call it as Purposiveness without Purpose. 

Me- …and what is the experience of Sublime which you have discussed in Critique of Judgment?

K- Well, there is a difference between the experience of beauty and sublime. While the experience of beauty relaxes, sublime invokes the awe in us.

Me- How? 

K- Suppose, if you experience something too imposing which your senses cannot capture, it will produce a sense of awe. Suppose if you see the mighty wave rising in the ocean or see the Himalayas and you find your existence or resistance too puny before it; it produces the experience of Sublime. 

Me- But isn’t that fear?

K- No, fear makes you run from the object of threat. On the other hand, sublime invokes the feeling of awe. You know that it is dangerous for your life yet you want to experience it because it is so mighty and overwhelming. 

Me- But why we do that?

K- Because we have two dimensions of our being: Phenomena and Noumenon. Our phenomenal existence is determined by nature and its laws, which are based on a causality.  On the other hand, Noumenon is completely free from causality. It is the realm of freedom. Sublime gives us a glimpse of our freedom and that’s why it attracts us despite being dangerous. In the experience of sublime, we become free of the causality and experience the noumenal dimension of our being.

At this point, I remember the Vishvaroop Darsan Episode in Bhagavadgita when Krishana shows his  mighty divine form to Arjuna on his request. On seeing Krishna’s mammoth form, he is overpowered by the sight and prayed Krishna to withdraw it and resume the normal form. Perhaps this is the  experience of the sublime which invoked the awe in Arjuna. We both like and are afraid of the things which overwhelms us. That’s why Kant says that we like to watch the mighty wave in ocean from the safe distance.

 The discussion on beauty and sublime with Kant reveals an important thing that there is more to the existence than the conceptualisation. Overemphasis on the conceptualisation has robbed the life of the beauty and stillness. Mind never settles to rest.  Perhaps art holds the possibility to overcome the conceptualisation.  

Disclaimer: The opinions endorsed by the speaker is solely the author’s and not in any way endorsed by the Institute/Programme.