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Kantian Genius Reconstructed 

Jonathan Gingerich (Rutgers)

I develop an interpretation of Kant’s theory of ‘genius’—a talent that, according to Kant, is required for artists to produce beautiful art—that shows how Kantian genius might avoid charges of elitism and individualism that twenty-first century aestheticians have levelled against the notion of genius. I contend that Kantian genius can be fruitfully understood as the power to act in ways that are not planned out in advance, but that arise ‘spontaneously.’ My interpretation counts a much broader range of actives as expressing ‘genius’ than those activities that are traditionally understood as artistic activities. I further contend that my interpretation of Kantian genius illuminates an underappreciated connection between Kant and Nietzsche: Kant’s genius and Nietzsche’s aesthetic experience both console us to existential suffering by providing us with an opportunity to see ourselves not only in our rational, deliberative faculties, but also in our subconscious drives and dispositions.

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