Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant


Edited by Peter Y. Chou

The two different feelings of pleasure and annoyance are not so much based upon the quality of the external things when exciting them as upon the sentiment, peculiar to each man, of being moved to pleasure or displeasure...

The finer sentiment which we propose to consider here is primarily of two kinds: the sentiment of the lofty or sublime (Erhabenen) and the sentiment of the beautiful. Being moved by either is agreeable, but in a very different way. A view of a mountain, the snowy peaks of which rise above the clouds, a description of a raging storm or a description by Milton of the Kingdom of Hell cause pleasure, but it is mixed with awe; on the other hand, a view of flower-filled meadows, valleys with winding brooks and the herds upon them, the description of elysium or Homer's description of the belt of Venus cause an agreeable feeling which is gay and smiling. We must have a sense of the sublime to receive the first impression adequately, and a sense of the beautiful to enjoy the latter fully. Great oak trees and lovely spots in a sacred grove are sublime. Beds of flowers, low hedges and trees trimmed into shape are beautiful. The night is sublime while the day is beautiful. Temperaments which have a sense for the sublime will be drawn toward eleated sentiments regarding friendship, contempt for the world and toward eternity, by the quiet silence of a summer evening when the twinkling light of the stars breaks through the shadows of the night and a lovely moon is visible. The glowing day inspires busy effort and a sense of joy. The sublime moves; the expression of a person experiencing the full sense of the sublime is serious, at times rigid and amazed. On the other hand, the vivid sense of the beautiful reveals itself in the shining gaiety of the eyes, by smiling and even by noisy enjoyment. The sublime, in turn, is at times accompanied by some terror or melancholia, in some cases merely by quiet admiration and in still others by the beauty which is spread over a sublime place. The first I want to call the terrible sublime, the second the noble, and the third the magnificent. Deep loneliness is sublime, but in a terrifying way.

The sublime must always be large; the beautiful may be small. The sublime must be simple; the beautiful may be decorated and adorned. A very great height is sublime as well as a very great depth; but the latter is accompanied by the sense of terror, the former by admiration. Hence the one may be terrible sublime, the other noble.

A long duration is sublime. If it concerns past time it is noble; if anticipated as an indeterminable future, it has something terrifying. (pp. 3-4)

Among the peoples of our continent, in my opinion, the Italians and the French are distinguished by their sense of the beautiful, while the Germans the English and the Spaniards by their sense of the sublime. Holland may be taken for the country where this finer taste becomes rather unnoticeable. The beautiful itself is either enchanting or touching, or radiating (lachend) or enticing. The first kind has something of the sublime, and the mind (Gemuet) when feeling it is deeply stirred or enthusiastic, but when feeling the second is appropriate to the French. (p. 5)

— from Carl J. Friedrich (Ed.), The Philosophy of Kant,
     The Modern Library, New York, 1949
     (Foothill Library: B2758.F7)


Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgement (1790)

Book I. Analytic of the Beautiful

If we wish to discern whether anything is beautiful or not, we do not refer the representation of it to the Object by means of understanding with a view to cognition, but by means of the imagination (acting perhaps in conjunction with understanding) we refer the representation to the Subject and its feeling of pleasure or displeasure. (p. 41)

Definition of the Beautiful derived from the first moment:
Taste is the faculty of estimating an object or a mode of representation by means of a delight or aversion apart from any interest. The object of such a delight is called beautiful. (p. 50)

Definition of the Beautiful drawn from the second moment:
The beautiful is that which, apart from a concept, pleases universally. (p. 60)

Definition of the Beautiful drawn from the third moment:
Beauty is the form of finality in an object, so far as perceived in it apart from the representation of an end. (A flower, such as a tulip, is regarded as beautiful, because we meet with a certain finality in its perception, which, in our estimate of it, is not referred to any end whatever. (p. 80)

Definition of the Beautiful drawn from the fourth moment:
The beautiful is that which, apart from a concept, is cognized as object of a necessary delight. (p. 85)

All stiff regularity (such as borders on mathematical regularity) is inherently repugnant to taste, in that the contemplation of it affords us no lasting entertainment. On the other hand, anything that gives the imagination scope for unstudied and final play is always fresh to us. We do not grow to hate the very sight of it... Even a bird's song, which we can reduce to no musical rule, seems to have more freedom in it, and thus to be richer for taste, than the human voice singing in accordance with all the rules that the art of music prescribes; for we grow tired much sooner of frequent and lengthy repetitions of the latter. Yet here most likely our sympathy with the mirth of a dear little creature is confused with the beauty of its song, for if exactly imitated by man (as has been sometimes done with the notes of the nightingale) it would strike our ear as wholly destitute of taste. (pp. 88-89)

Further, beautiful objects have to be distinguished from beautiful views of objects (where the distance often prevents a clear perception)... It is just as when we watch the changing shapes of the fire or of a rippling brook: neither of which are things of beauty, but they convey a charm to the imagination, because they sustain its free play. (p. 89)

Book II. Analytic of the Sublime
A. The Mathematically Sublime
     Definition of the term 'sublime'

Sublime is the name give to what is absolutely great. But to be great and to be a magnitude are entirely different concepts (magnitudo and quantitas). In the same way to assert without qualification (simpliciter) that something is great, is quite a different thing from saying that it is absolutely great (absolute, non comparative magnum). The latter is what is beyond all comparison great.— What, then, is the meaning of the assertion that anything is great, or small, or of medium size? What is indicated is not a pure concept of understanding, still less an intuition of sense; and just as little is it a concept of reason, for it does not import any principle of cognition. It must, therefore, be a concept of judgement, or have its source in one, and must introduce as basis of the judgement a subjective finality of the representation with reference to the power of judgement. (pp. 94-95)

Hence it comes that the sublime is not to be looked for in the things of nature, but only in our own ideas. But it must be left to the Deduction to show in which of them it resides.

The above definition may also be expressed in this way: that is sublime in comparison with which all else is small. Here we readily see that nothing can be given in nature, no matter how great we may judge it to be, which, regarded in some other relation, may not be degraded to the level of the infinitely little, and nothing so small which in comparison with some still smaller standard may not for our imagination be enlarged to the greatness of a world. Telescopes have put within our reach an abundance of material to go upon in making the first observation, and microscopes the same in making the second. Nothing, therefore, which can be an object of the senses is to be termed sublime when treated on this footing. (p. 97)

Consequently it is the disposition of soul evoked by a particular representation engaging the attention of the reflective judgement, and not the Object, that is to be called sublime. The foregoing formulae defining the sublime may , therefore, be supplemented by yet another: The sublime is that, the mere capacity of thinking which evidences a faculty of mind transcending every standard of sense. (p. 98)

This explains Savary's observations in his account of Egypt, that in order to get the full emotional effect of the size of the Pyramids we must avoid coming too near just as much as remaining too far away. For in the latter case the representation of the spprehended parts (the tiers of stones) is but obscure, and produces no effect upon the aesthetic judgement of the Subject. In the former, however, it takes the eye some time to complete the apphrension from the base to the summit; but in this interval the first tiers always in part disappear before the imagination has taken in the last, and so the comprehension is never complete. The same explanation may also sufficiently account for the bewilderment that seizes the visitor on first entering St. Peter's in Rome. For here a feeling comes home to him of the inadequacy of his imagination for presenting the idea of a whole within which that imagination attains its maximum, and, in its fruitless efforts to extend this limit, recoils upon itself, but in so doing succumbs to an emotional delight. (pp. 99-100)

B. The Dynamically Sublime in Nature
     Nature as Might

Might is a power which is superior to great hindrances. It is termed dominion if it is also superior to the resistance of that which itself possesses might. Nature considered in an aesthetic judgement as might that has no dominion over us, is dynamically sublime.

If we are to estimate nature as dynamically sublime, it must be represented as a source of fear (though the converse, that every object that is a source of fear is, in our aesthetic judgement, sublime, does not hold). For in forming an aesthetic estimate the superiority to hindrances can only be estimated according to the greatness of the resistance. Now that which we strive to resist is an evil, and, if we do not find our powers commensurate to the task, an object of fear. Hence the aesthetic judgement can only deem nature a might, and so dynamically sublime, in so far as it is looked upon as an object of fear...

Bold, overhanging, and, as it were, threatening rocks, thunderclouds piled up the vault of heaven, borne along with flashes and peals, volcanoes in all their violence of destruction, hurricanes leaving desolation in their track, the boundless ocean rising with rebellious force, the high waterfall of some mighty river, and the like, make our power of resistance of trifling moment in comparison with their might. But, provided our own position is secure, their aspect is all the more attractive for its fearfulness; and we readily call these objects sublime, because they raise the forces of the soul above the height of vulgar commonplace, and discover within us a power of resistance of quite another kind, which gives us courage to be able to measure ourselves against the seeming omnipotence of nature. (pp. 109-111)

Sublimity, therefore, does not reside in any of the things of nature, but only in our own mind, in so far as we may become conscious of our superiority over nature within, and thus also over nature without us (as exerting influence upon us). Everything that provokes this feeling in us, including the might of nature which challenges our strength, is then, though improperly, called sublime, and it is only under presupposition of this idea wihin us, and in relation to it, that we are capable of attaining to the idea of the sublimity of that Being which inspires deep respect in us, not by the mere display of its might in nature, but more by the faculty which is planed in us of estimating that might without fear, and of regarding our estate as exalted above it. (p. 114)

— from Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgement,
     translated by James Creed Meredith
     Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1964
     (Foothill Library: B2783.E5.M5.1964)


Web Links to Kant's "Beautiful and the Sublime"

Philosophy of the Sublime
(Ancient Philosophy, 18th Century, Romantic Period, 20th Century)

Beautiful & Sublime
(By Laura Smith, International Relations, Winter 2003, University of Chicago)

Philosophical Beauty: The Sublime
in the Beautiful in Kant's Third Critique and Aristotle's Poetics

(By Richard Gilmore, Concordia College)

Aesthetics: Summary of Kant
(Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Volume 6, Kant, Image Books, NY, 1964)

On the Sublime: Longinus, Burke and Kant
(By J.M. Magrini, Carleton University Student Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 20, Fall 2002)

Aesthetics of Kant
(Philosophy Dept, Rowan University, New Jersey)

Immanuel Kant (Chronology of his works)
(By Kelley L. Ross, Dept. of Philosophy, Los Angeles Valley College)

| Top of Page | Dreams of a Visionary | Herder on Kant | Home |

© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (9-24-2007)