The Lie of Time: Genuine Aesthetic Disagreement in Kant's Critical Philosophy Open Access

Slover, Christopher (Spring 2021)

Permanent URL:


My dissertation explores the possibility of “genuine aesthetic disagreement” in Kant’s critical philosophy. Genuine aesthetic disagreement occurs when two individuals issue opposing but equally authoritative evaluations of the same object, one calling it beautiful, the other ugly, but both possessing a transcendental right to demand the assent of the other. After showing Kant’s aesthetics to presuppose the possibility of this sort of conflict, I unravel its surprising consequences for human experience. For Kant, judgments about beauty and ugliness are grounded in the feeling of the very cognitive processes by which each individual gives transcendental structure to her objective world. The possibility that two people could ever genuinely disagree about what is and is not beautiful indicates a catastrophic schism in cognition and so in the objective world itself: the way the world is from one subjective standpoint is incompatible with the way it is from another. My dissertation exposes this schism and elaborates its ramifications. 

           I begin by proving the apparently trivial conditional that, if it is possible to judge objects beautiful or ugly at all, then genuine disagreement about these judgments must also be possible. To establish this point, I pit the constraints objective validity against those of what Kant calls “subjective” validity. According to Kant, while judgments of taste (claims about beauty or ugliness) demand agreement from everyone, they do not identify cognitive traits of their objects. Beauty is never an objective property, as, say, ‘redness’ sometimes is, but we still insist on the agreement of everyone when we attribute it. Examining the conditions of objective validity laid out in the Critique of Pure Reason, I establish that, under normal circumstances, any judgment with a legitimate claim to subjective validity would have to be objectively valid as well. It is a downstream consequence of Kant’s famous subordination of objectivity to normativity that a subjectively valid judgment escapes objective validity only if an incompatible, but equally authoritative, judgment on the same topic may be made from a different subjective standpoint. I may legitimately demand your agreement when I call an object beautiful, without inadvertently attributing beauty to that object as a property, only if you may call it ugly with an equal right to demand agreement from me.

           The possibility of genuine aesthetic disagreement, I go on show, requires cognition to structure experience in different and even incompatible ways from different subjective standpoints, indicating a transcendental schism dividing each of us from the others. I devote the rest of the dissertation to the study of this divide, ultimately locating its source in the fine-grained structure of “aesthetic ideas”—the representations that ground all judgments of taste. Just like their more widely discussed counterparts, ideas of reason, aesthetic ideas are necessary to the transcendental picture, even though they do not provide cognition: if we did not represent aesthetic ideas in some way, then experience itself would cease to be possible. Whereas representing a given object under an idea of reason involves conceiving it as a noumenal unity to which its sensible appearance will never be adequate, I argue that representing that same object under an aesthetic idea involves taking it as a sensible manifold whose multiplicity may never be consolidated under a concept.

           The contrary interpretations that arise with respect to aesthetic objects, I go on to contend, constitute baseline subject-perspectives on the world from which distinct individuals originally gain the capacity to dispute with one another rationally. It is an essential, and not an accidental, fact about subjectivity that distinct individuals hold at least some commitments that are incompatible with those of everyone else. This transcendental schism of each with all the others is not only what first gives rise to “others” worthy of the name; it is also part of what makes the cognitive game of giving and asking for reasons originally possible (to borrow Sellars’s famous phrase). If individuals were not transcendentally incompatible with one another, each making claims the others at least implicitly deny, then the very idea of a “reason,” and so ultimately of an “object,” would never be possible. Hence, I conclude, genuine aesthetic disagreement plays a necessary role in the transcendental structure of objective, rational, conceptually contentful experience.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


I.              Overview: Genuine Aesthetic Disagreement                                                        1

II.            Taste, Aesthetic Conflict, and Transcendental Idealism                                         2

III.          The Reason for Rational Reconstruction: A Spirit of Respect                                 3

IV.          The Necessity of Taste: What is Cognitive Free Play?                                            5

V.            Transcendental Mythology: The Plunge into Time-Difference                                7

VI.          Chapter Summary                                                                                             10

Part One. Aesthetic Conflict and Cognition: Reconstructing Self-Consciousness

Chapter One. Taste and Genuine Aesthetic Disagreement:

The Cost of Transcendental Idealism                                                                                     12        

I.              The Taxonomy of Taste                                                                                          16

1.    Two Judgments on a Painting                                                                                   16

2.    The Logical Forms of CJ and JT: Affirmative, Singular, Categorical, Assertoric                     18

3.    Quality: Disinterested (CJ), Disinterested (JT)                                                              20

4.    Quantity: Subjectively Universal (CJ), Subjectively Universal (JT)                                       22

5.    Relation: Purposiveness With a Purpose (CJ), Purposiveness of Without a Purpose (JT)          25

6.    Modality: Necessary (CJ), Necessary (JT)                                                                    27

7.    Results of the Structure                                                                                           28

II.            Transcendental Idealism: The Priority of Normative Attitudes                                     29

1.    The Bridge to Transcendental Idealism                                                                        30

2.    Transcendental Idealism: The Basic Position                                                                30

3.    The Conceptuality of Normativity                                                                              32

4.    All Subjectively Universal Norms are (Ought to Be) Concepts                                            35

5.    Subjective Universality is Instituted by a Normative Attitude                                             40

III.          The Necessary Possibility of Genuine Aesthetic Disagreement                                     44

1.    The Attitude of Subjective Universality vs. The Status of Conceptuality                                 45

2.    Inhibiting the Institution of Concepts                                                                          48

3.    The Necessary Possibility of Genuine Aesthetic Disagreement                                             51

IV.          Conclusion: Genuine Aesthetic Disagreement and the Differend                                  53

1.    The Danger of Taste, the Range of ‘Us’                                                                       53

2.    The Differend and the Undecidability of Genuine Aesthetic Disagreements                            56

Chapter Two. Apperception and the Understanding: The Semantogenic Process of Inferential Synthesis                                                                                                                             59

I.              The Problem of a priori Synthesis and the Deduction of the Categories                         61

1.    The Real Problem of Pure Reason                                                                                  61

2.    The Transcendental Deduction of the Categories                                                                   65        

II.            An Inferentialist Semantics: What Do We Understand When We Understand?              74

1.    The Priority of the Propositional: Action and Responsibility                                                     74

2.    From Responsibility to Inferential Unity: How We Differ from Parrots                                      77

3.    The Inferential Role of Apperception                                                                                 81

4.    Conceptual Correctness and the Categories as Metalogical Rules of Inference in General                    84

III.          The Semantogenic Force of Inference and Apperception                                            86

1.    The Inferential Articulation of the Sensible                                                                         87

2.    Sellars and Material Inference                                                                                        89

3.    The Semantogenic Force of Material Inference                                                                      93

IV.          Conclusion: What is Apperception?                                                                           95

Chapter Three. Material Incompatibility, Sensible Contents,

and the Faculty of the Imagination                                                                                         98

I.              The Inferential Force of Sensible Contents                                                                99

1.    The Problem of Material Inference                                                                                   100

2.    Space, Time, and Contrariety: What are Sensible Contents?                                                    101

3.    Material Incompatibility and the Quasi-Semantogenic Force of Contrariety                                   105

4.    Incompatibility and Inference: The Inferential Force of Sensible Contents                                      108

II.            Imagination and Material Incompatibility                                                                   110

1.    The Necessity of a Faculty of Imagination                                                                          110

2.    Imagination in the A Deduction                                                                                      112

3.    The Reproductive Primacy of Contrariety                                                                           115

4.    Images and the Movement of Repulsion and Attraction                                                          117

5.    Imagination Bridges and the Reproduction of Compatibles                                                       119

III.          Conclusion: What is Cognition?                                                                                125

Chapter Four. Reality and the Material Supplement: What are Judgments of Taste?               129

I.              Error and Reality: The Transcendental Solution                                                          130

1.    Transcendental Idealism and the Problem of Reality                                                              131

2.    The Experience of Error: A Hegelian Account                                                                   133

3.    From Hegel to Kant: Error as the Path to Transcendence                                                       135

II.            The Transcendental Ground of Error: The Ideal and Material Supplements                   138

1.    The Byproducts of Experience                                                                                         139

2.    How do the Supplements Ground Error and Reality?                                                            143

III.          From Error to Beauty: Representing the Supplements                                                 146

1.    Reason and the Ideal Supplement                                                                                    146

2.    Taste and the Material Supplement                                                                                  147

3.    Decentralization, Dissemination, and Harmonization                                                           152

4.    The Pleasure of Cognitive Free Play                                                                                 157

IV.          Conclusion: Taste and the Irreducibility of Genuine Aesthetic Disagreement                 160

Part Two. Transcendental Mythology: Time-Difference and the Simulation of Subjectivity

Chapter Five. Aesthetic Ideas and The Deschematism: The Derivation of Time-Difference   164

I.              Aesthetic Ideas and the Supersensible Ground of the Subject                                      165

1.    The Three Defenses of Subjective Universality                                                                     165

2.    The Antinomy of Taste                                                                                                166

3.    Aesthetic Ideas                                                                                                           170

4.    Two Peculiarities                                                                                                        172

II.            From Aesthetic Ideas to Absolute Time: The Taxonomy of Absolute Intuition              174

1.    Is an Absolute Intuition Mortal or Divine?                                                                        174

2.    Is Absolute Intuition Pure or Empirical?                                                                           176

3.    Is Absolute Intuition Spatiotemporal or Purely Temporal?                                                      177

III.          The Deschematism: From Time-Determinations to Time-Differences                          179

1.    Kant is Not Serious: Preparing the Deschematism                                                                179

2.    The General Procedure of the Deschematism                                                                       181

3.    Deschematizing Quantity                                                                                              181

4.    Deschematizing Quality                                                                                                182

5.    Deschematizing Relation                                                                                               183

6.    Deschematizing Modality                                                                                              185

IV.          The Derivation of Time-Difference                                                                          186

1.    The Manifold as Manifold                                                                                            186

2.    Absolute Intuition as the “Element” of an Absolute Manifold                                                 188

3.    Time-Difference                                                                                                          190

V.            Conclusion: The Mythic Ground of Subjectivity                                                         192

Chapter Six. The First Potency: The Essence and Expression of Time-Difference                 196

I.              From Absolute Difference to Other-Positing: The Essence of Time-Difference             198

1.    Time-Differences are Absolute Differences                                                                          199

2.    From the Absolute to the Essential: The Aporia of Time-Difference                                          200

3.    Other-Positing and the Being-of-Itself of Time-Difference                                                         202

4.    Fichte and the Ontological Character of Other-Positing                                                           206

5.    Heidegger and the Appropriative Character of Other-Positing                                                   208

6.    Three Peculiarities: Other Time-Differences, Manifoldness, and Intensity                                     209

II.            From Other- to Self-Positing: Transitivity, Reciprocity, Reflexivity                               212

1.    The Transitivity of Other-Positing                                                                                    213

2.    The Reciprocity of Other-Positing                                                                                     214

3.    The Reflexivity of Other-Positing                                                                                     219

III.          Absolute Positing: The Adequation of the Essence                                                     220

1.    The Fractal Structure of Time-Difference: Self-Positing Entails Other-Positing                              221

2.    The Structure of Absolute Positing                                                                                   222

3.    The Five Traits of Absolute Positing                                                                                226

IV.          Conclusion: The Definition and Fourfoldness of Absolute Positing                              230

Chapter Seven. The Chronicle of Sensibility:

Meat, Eternal Return, and Ontological Laughter                                                                    233

I.              From Positing to Givenness: Rethinking the Essence and its Expression                       234

1.    On Sensibility as a Faculty: What is Material Expression?                                                    234

2.    Fore-Positing and Making-Past: From Essence as Form to the History of Beyng                           238

3.    Expropriation: Essential Expression as the Expression of Material History                                240

4.    Aristophanes and Ontological Laughter: From Positing to Givenness                                         243

II.            Eternal Return and Meat: Thinking the Aesthetic Thought                                          249

1.    Eternal Return: The Material Expression of an “Object”                                                       249

2.    Meat: The Perfection of Eternal Return                                                                             257

3.    Laughter and the Aesthetic Thought                                                                                 261

Chapter Eight. The Second Potency: Permanent Revolution and the Imagination                  267

I.              From Adequation to Alienation: The Other Side of the Absolute                                 268

1.    Review of the First Potency                                                                                            268

2.    The Birth of Matter: Equivalence and Indifference                                                                271

3.    Alienation: From Essence to Form                                                                                  273

4.    Reflection: The Performance of the Form                                                                            275

5.    Components of Reflection: Reflecting-for-Self, Being Reflected-for-Other                                        276

II.            The Dialectic of Reflection: Permanent Revolution                                                     278

1.    The Basic Structure of Reflection                                                                                     279

2.    The Ontological Sink: Annihilation and Reproduction                                                           283

3.    Permanent Revolution: The Process of the Second Potency                                                        286

III.          Imagination: The Performative Universal, the Origin of Law                                       291

1.    Trotsky and Permanent Revolution                                                                                  291

2.    Time-Difference and the Reproductive Function of the Imagination                                             293

3.    Time-Difference and the Reflective Function of the Imagination                                                 294

4.    Time-Difference and Purposiveness: The Performative Universal                                                296

5.    Conclusion: Time-Difference and the Origin of Law                                                              300

Chapter Nine. The Third Potency:

(De)construction and the Understanding (The Lie of Time)                                                   302

I.              Transition to the Third Potency: From Reflection to Construction                               304

1.    Review of the Second Potency                                                                                          304

2.    Two Standpoints: Universal and Singular                                                                          306

3.    From Reflection to Construction: Why is a Third Potency Necessary?                                         308

II.            The Construction of Hierarchy: The Regime of the Rule                                             311

1.    Five Traits of Asymmetric Reflection: The Conditional Revolution                                             311

2.    The Origin of Hierarchy                                                                                               313

3.    Iteration and the Definition of the Third Potency                                                                  317

III.          (De)construction: The End of Time                                                                          319

1.    The Mutual Incompatibility of All Time-Differential Hierarchies                                              319

2.    The Relation of Mutual Instigation                                                                                  321

3.    The Five Stages of Counter-Construction: Redescribing the Universal                                          323

4.    Derrida, De(construction), and the Feeling of Moral Threat                                                     327

IV.          The Lie of Time: Undecidability and the Stratagem of Subjectivity                                333

1.    Freud, Kafka, and the Point of Undecidability                                                                    334

2.    The Simulation of Subjectivity                                                                                        337

Chapter Ten. A Sketch of Subjectivity:

Politics, Reason, and Genuine Aesthetic Disagreement                                                          341

I.              The Faculties of a Subject-Perspective: Understanding, Imagination, and Sensibility       342

1.    Reviewing the Processes of Simulation                                                                                342

2.    Transcendental Faculties                                                                                               346

II.            Politics and Paranoia: The Sociality of Subjectivity                                                      347

1.    Disinterestedness, Exposure, and Paranoia: Why are there Other Subject-Perspectives?                    348

2.    Proverbs for Paranoids: Pynchon and the Principles of Politics                                                  353

III.          Common Ground: Categories and the Space of Reasons                                             359

1.    The Universal Ground                                                                                                 359

2.    Hierarchy and the Categories                                                                                          360

3.    From the Feeling of Threat to Rational Respect                                                                   364

4.    The Thing-In-Itself and The Social Contract                                                                       366

5.    The Space of Reasons                                                                                                  370

6.    The Reason for Space: Irreducible Incompatibility and “Social Distancing”                                  373

IV.          Genuine Aesthetic Disagreement: The Beautiful, the Sublime, and the Artistic               375

1.    The Necessity of Simulation, Reconfirmed                                                                          376

2.    Revisiting the Judgment of Taste                                                                                      378

3.    Deciding the Undecidable: How are Genuine Aesthetic Disagreements Possible?                            381

4.    The Sublime and the Artistic                                                                                         384

Works Cited                                                                                                                           388

About this Dissertation

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
  • English
Research Field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files