Volume 1, 1998
Aesthetics and Philosophy of the Arts
Sandra L. Shapshay
Subtle Scripture for an Invisible Church
The Moral Importance of the Beautiful in Kant
I argue for an interpretation of Kant's aesthetics whereby the experience of the beautiful plays the same functional role in the invisible church of natural religion as Scripture does for the visible churches of ecclesiastical religions. Thus, I contend, the links that Kant himself implies between the aesthetic and the moral (in the third Critique and the Religion) are much stronger than generally portrayed by commentators. Indeed, for Kant, experience of the beautiful may be necessary in order to found what Kant views as the final end of morality — the ethical community — since human moral psychology requires embodiments of moral ideas. Finally, I seek to modify Martha Nussbaums' argument in Poetic Justice (1995) for the increased use of the literary imagination as a means for improving public moral reasoning in this country, with the Kantian insight that aesthetic autonomy is the key to any aesthetic-moral link.