Immanuel Kant's Critique of Judgement, also known as the third critique, simultaneously completes Kant's Critical project and lays the foundations for modern aesthetics. The most popular English translation is the one made by James Creed Meredith, though recently Paul Guyer's translation, part of the new Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant in Translation, has gained some ground. Guyer translates the title as the Critique of the Power of Judgement, though this title has not caught on as the standard way of referring to the text. The Guyer and Werner S. Pluhar translations tend to be preferred over the older Meredith and Bernard editions.
The book is divided into two main sections, the Critique of Aesthetic Judgement and the Critique of Teleological Judgement, and also includes a large overview of the entirety of the Critical system, arranged in its final form.
The Critical project, that of exploring the limits and conditions of knowledge, had already spawned the Critique of Pure Reason, in which Kant argued for a Transcendental Aesthetic, an approach to the problems of perception in which space and time are supposed not to be objects but ways in which the observing subject's mind organizes and structures the sensory world. The end result of this inquiry is that there are certain fundamental antinomies in human Reason, most particularly that there is a complete inability to favor on the one hand the argument that all behavior and thought is determined by external causes, and on the other that there is an actual "spontaneous" causal principle at work in human behavior.
The first position, of causal determinism, is adopted, in Kant's view, by empirical scientists of all sorts; moreover, it led to the Idea (perhaps never fully to be realized) of a final science in which all empirical knowledge could be synthesized into a full and complete causal explanation of all events possible to the world.
The Critique of Judgement constitutes a discussion of the place of Judgement itself, which must overlap both the Understanding (which operates from within a deterministic framework) and Reason (which operates on the grounds of freedom).
The first part of the book, the Critique of Aesthetic Judgement, discusses the four possible reflective judgements - the agreeable, the beautiful, the sublime, and the good. Kant makes it clear that these are the only four possible reflective judgements, as he relates them to the Table of Judgements from the Critique of Pure Reason.
The agreeable is a purely sensory judgement – judgements in the form of "This steak is good," or "This chair is soft." These are purely subjective judgements, based on inclination alone.
The good is essentially a judgement that something is ethical – the judgement that something conforms with moral law, which, in the Kantian sense, is essentially a claim of modality – a coherence with a fixed and absolute notion of reason. It is in many ways the absolute opposite of the agreeable, in that it is a purely objective judgement – things are either moral, to Kant, or they are not.
The remaining two judgements - the beautiful and the sublime - occupy a space between the agreeable and the good. They are what Kant refers to as "subjective universal" judgements. This apparently oxymoronic term means that, in practice, the judgements are subjective, and are not tied to any absolute and determinate concept. However, the judgement that something is beautiful or sublime is made with the belief that other people ought to agree with this judgement - even though it is known that many will not. The force of this "ought" comes from a reference to a "sensus communis" - a community of taste. Hannah Arendt, in her Lectures on Kant's Political Philosophy, suggests the possibility that this sensus communis might be the basis of a political theory that is markedly different from the one that Kant lays out in the Metaphysic of Morals.
The judgement that something is beautiful is a claim that it possesses the "form of finality" - that is, that it appears to have been designed with a purpose, even though it does not have any apparent practical function. The judgment that something is sublime is a judgement that it is beyond the limits of comprehension - that it is an object of fear. However, Kant makes clear that the object must not actually be threatening - it merely must be recognized as deserving of fear.
Kant's view of the beautiful and the sublime is frequently read as an attempt to resolve one of the problems left following his depiction of moral law in the Critique of Practical Reason - namely that it is impossible to prove that we have free will, and thus impossible to prove that we are bound under moral law. The beautiful and the sublime both seem to refer to some external noumenon order - and thus to the possibility of a noumenal soul possessing free will.
In this section of the critique Kant also establishes faculty of mind that is in many ways the inverse of judgement - the faculty of genius. Whereas judgement allows one to determine whether something is beautiful or sublime, genius allows one to produce what is beautiful or sublime.
The second half of the Critique discusses teleological judgement. This way of judging things according to their ends (telos: Greek for end) is logically connected to the first discussion at least regarding beauty but suggests a kind of (self-) purposiveness (that is, meaningfulness known by one's self).
Kant writes about the biological as teleological, claiming that there are things, such as living beings, whose parts exist for the sake of their whole and their whole for the sake of their parts. This allows him to open a gap in the physical world: since these "organic" things cannot be brought under the rules that apply to all other appearances, what are we to do with them?
Kant says explicitly that while efficiently causal explanations are always best (x causes y, y is the effect of x), there "will never be a Newton for a blade of grass", and so the organic must be explained “as if” it were constituted as teleological. This portion of the Critique is, from some modern theories, where Kant is most radical; he posits man as the ultimate end, that is, that all other forms of nature exist for the purpose of their relation to man, directly or not, and that man is left outside of this due to his faculty of reason. Kant claims that culture becomes the expression of this, that it is the highest teleological end, as it is the only expression of human freedom outside of the laws of nature. Man also garners the place as the highest teleological end due to his capacity for morality, or practical reason, which falls in line with the ethical system that Kant proposes in the Critique of Practical Reason and the Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals.
Though Kant consistently maintains that the human mind is not an "intuitive understanding"—something that creates the phenomena which it cognizes—several of his readers (starting with Fichte, culminating in Schelling) believed that it must be (and often give Kant credit).
Kant’s discussions of schema and symbol late in the first half of the Critique of Judgement also raise questions about the way the mind represents its objects to itself, and so are foundational for an understanding of the development of much late 20th century continental philosophy: Jacques Derrida is known to have studied the book extensively.
The core of modern Aesthetics utilized the Kantian critique of judgement as a framework in which aesthetic questions could be debated.
Kant was strongly interested, in all of his critiques, with the relation between mental operations and external objects. "His attention is specially aroused by the circumstance that such a judgement is obviously the expression of something occurring in the subject, but is nevertheless as universally valid as if it concerned a quality of the object. It is this that struck him, not the beautiful itself.
The book’s form is the result of concluding that beauty can be explained by examining the concept of suitableness. Schopenhauer stated that “Thus we have the queer combination of the knowledge of the beautiful with that of the suitableness of natural bodies into one faculty of knowledge called power of judgement, and the treatment of the two heterogeneous subjects in one book.”
Kant is inconsistent, according to Schopenhauer, because “…after it had been incessantly repeated in the Critique of Pure Reason that the understanding is the ability to judge, and after the forms of its judgements are made the foundation–stone of all philosophy, a quite peculiar power of judgement now appears which is entirely different from that ability.”
With regard to teleological judgement, Schopenhauer claimed that Kant tried to say only this: "…although organized bodies necessarily seem to us as though they were constructed according to a conception of purpose which preceded them, this still does not justify us in assuming it to be objectively the case. This is in accordance with Kant's usual concern with the correspondence between subjectivity (the way that we think) and objectivity (the external world). Our minds want to think that natural bodies were made by a purposeful intelligence, like ours.