PRINT November 1991


THE MAINSTREAM TRADITION in Western philosophy—what Richard Rorty has called the Plato-to-Kant axis—has argued for universal and unchanging criteria of quality that are supposedly valid for all times and places. There are differences in expression—Plato, for example, spoke about objective universals and Kant about subjective ones—but it is a shared idea that correct judgments are based on a correct perception of universals and incorrect ones on a misperception of them. Absolute values, in this view, are inborn in all humans identically in all times and places, in what Plato called the Eye of the Soul and what Kant called the Faculty of Judgment, or Taste. Some people can apprehend these inborn ideas clearly and some, because of a variety of obscuring factors, cannot.

This belief implicitly underlay the most influential Modernist art criticism from Roger Fry to Clement Greenberg, critics

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