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PHL 230
Instructor: Dr. Bob Zunjic
 

IMMANUEL KANT

Analytic of the Sublime

An Outline

 

In the second book of his third Critique Kant discusses the nature of the sublime. The sublime is by no means an ordinary notion. Our contemporary Aesthetics (with some notable exceptions, like J.F. Lyotard) pays even less attention to the sublime than to the beautiful. But in the traditional Aesthetics, from Antiquity (Longinus) to the 18th century (Burke), the sublime used to play a very important role albeit with a changing connotation ranging from the lofty style to the chaotic and wild Nature. With his Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757) Edmund Burke defined canonically its aesthetical prominence as the satisfaction arising from the removal of an imminent threat. Throughout the 18th century the nature of the sublime was hotly debated between those who maintained it was rational, artificial and grandiloquent, and those who thought it was empirical, natural and simple. Kant himself took part in the debate with his short essay "Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime" (1764) in which he sided mostly with the second group. But in the Critique of Judgment (1790) he rejects the empirical approach as unsuited to account for the communicability of the sublime which displays a peculiar combination of opposite feelings .
This outline covers Kant's discussion of the sublime (23-29).


Second Book
Analytic of the Sublime

Notion What is sublime? In today's parlance (if the word occurs at all) the sublime is envisioned as something elevated, lofty and exalted. In Kant's view, the sublime has to do with grandeur rather than loftiness although it is linked with the supersensible. We experience the sublime when our imagination fails to comprehend the greatness of natural events by means of determinate concepts of the understanding but supplants this failure with a delight stemming from its ability to grasp these aspects of nature by virtue of an idea of reason. That idea pertains to the supersensible and human moral nature.
  Note: The analytic of the sublime is not very functional within the initial project of unifying the realms of theoretical and practical philosophy (nature and morality). In fact, it upsets the plan to expand the "subjective purposiveness of nature for cognitive faculties" into the Idea of an "objective purposiveness of nature for freedom". The feeling of the sublime separates both the purposiveness of nature and the natural form from the realm of aesthetical judgment. Because of this Kant calls the analytic of the sublime just an "appendix" to the whole investigation on the faculty of Judgment. But it compliments both Critiques while the aesthetics of the sublime, although "negative" in terms of form and objective purposiveness appears to be very "modern" and even "postmodern" (J.F.Lyotard).
   
23 Transition to the Faculty of Judging the Sublime
   
  The very special status of the sublime Kant expounds in constant contrast with the beautiful. The comparison highlights both the continuities and discontinuities between the judgments upon the sublime and those upon the beautiful. Kant begins his analysis with a "transition" that connects the estimation of the beautiful with the estimation of the sublime. They are both forms of the same (reflective) faculty of (reflective) Judgment, only exercised differently and with different cognitive counterparts.

Common Source The common root in the faculty of Judgment explains both the similarities and differences between the two branches of aesthetic judging. Kant first addresses the commonalities between the judgments of the beautiful and the sublime and then moves on to discuss the differences.
Similarities The specificities of the agreement between the beautiful and the sublime are demonstrated with regard to the categories of quality and quantity.
   
 
COMMON TRAITS
   
 
QUALITY
QUANTITY
Both please in themselves (on their own account). Both are expressed in singular judgments.
Both lack any private interest - in that respect they both differ from the good and the pleasant. Both raise universal claims.
In both the faculty of presentation (imagination) provides pleasure in conjunction with the faculty of concepts (the understanding or reason). In both the professed universality is subjective.
   
Satisfaction The feeling of the sublime, like the feeling of the beautiful, pleases in itself and is devoid of any personal interest. It pleases immediately without any sensorial or rational interest involved. Therefore the ensuing satisfaction is not derived either from a sensation or from a concept. It is rather connected with the presentation of the object and in that sense with the faculty of presentation (imagination).
Subjective Affinity The affinity (delight) in both the beautiful and the sublime is subjective. Both presuppose a judgment of reflection based on a subjective feeling accompanying the presentation of the object.
Universal Claim The judgment of the beautiful and the judgment of the sublime both profess to be universally valid. They could be such only if they are refered to a rule valid for all subjects. Seemingly the presentation of the object should be in both cases conceivable by virtue of a concept, but in both cases it fails.
Indeterminate Concept It fails because these judgments refer to indeterminate concepts (indefinite rule). They do not procure the knowledge of the object - only awareness of the state of our subjective mind. Since imagination alone cannot produce any judgment (it is a faculty of sensation) in both cases we must resort either to understanding or reason without fully succumbing to their legislation.
Results:  
  Our judgments about the beautiful and the sublime obviously share several fundamental characteristics:
  - they are both pure aesthetic judgments
- they are both reflective judgments
- they are both subjective judgments
- they are both singular judgments
- they refer to indeterminate concepts.
- they raise claim to universal agreement
 
These similarities are very important but Kant shows that the differences are even more decisive. He says they are "striking".
   
 
DIVIDING TRAITS
Differences
BEAUTIFUL
SUBLIME
B. is connected with the form of objects with definite boundaries. S. is found in formles objects so far as with them a representation of boundlessness occurs to mind.
B. is the presentation of an indefinite concept of understanding. S. is the presentation of an indefinite concept of reason.
Satisfaction in B. is bound up with the representation of quality. (Form) Satisfaction in S. is bound up with the representation of quantity. (Size)
   
(I) Formlessness The judgment of the beautiful must be based on a feeling induced by the form of the object. The form is the limitation of the object (physically) or its de-finition (conceptually) - in other words, the determination of the object in the concept (to define means literally to "set boundaries"). To be sure, the beautiful resists any subsumption under concepts but in the case of the judgments of taste the form must arouse certain activity of the understanding which strives to comprehend the object although it ultimately falls short of being determinant.
Limitlessness The feeling of sublimity, on the other hand, is induced by the absence of form, formlessness, or by its incomprehensiveness. The object of the sublime feeling resists representation by renouncing form - this absence is precisely that waht constitutes the unlimited. The sublime is occasioned by "formless objects" that provoke the idea of limitlessness. This idea is the product of reason which can present the objects that are otherwise beyond grasp and sensible limits.
  Note: The ambition to represent the unrepresentable of presentation is what makes the sublime so attractive to postmodern artists and thinkers. In relying on "formlessness" and the "absence of form" as the "index to the unpresentable" they oppose Modern complacency with "good forms" and "a consensus of taste" (J.F. Lyotard, "What is Postmodernism?"). The tendency of the contemporary painting to avoid "figuration" and "representation" (Duchamp -> Lyotard) corresponds in its essence to the most sublime biblical passage that prohibits "graven images" of the Absolute (Picasso -> Kant).
(II) Indetermination The difference between the limit and the unlimited qualifies the previously stated agreement between the beautiful and the sublime in terms of quality and quantity. In both cases the relation of imagination with its counterpart (understanding or reason) remains indeterminate. Both the feeling of the beautiful and the sublime rest on an indeterminate relation of imagination and the power of concepts.
(1) In regard to judgments of the beautiful understanding provides certain rules of order and limitation. By means of them the object is experienced as an organized and articulated whole although we cannot state the principle of its organization in concepts.
(2) As far as the sublime is concerned, the imagination fails to represent the object presicely because it relies on the understanding. But this failure is not the end of the story. The inability of imagination to comprehend the object in its limits invokes certain ideas of reason that prompt imagination to enter into a relationship with reason.
The Supersensible We feel that something is sublime because that object points to our faculty of reason and its concepts. The feeling that we cannot comprehend a given sensible object by means of imagination raises us above the world of senses. The object that we cannot grasp and define is considered to be a presentation of an indeterminate concept of reason. The concepts of reason (= ideas) are concepts of the infinite world of the supersensible.
Tension The cooperation, or better to say full agreement, between understanding and imagination is accomplished only in determinant judgments. The cognitive faculties fall short of full agreement in judgments of taste but they still stand in a kind of harmonious tension in judging the beautiful. However, the tension takes over the harmony once reason replaces understanding.
(III) Limitative Quality Third moment of difference is about the nature of pleasure (delight) involved in respective feelings. The judgment of taste proves to be affirmative for the delight of the beautiful and affirmative of its special disinterested nature. Thus it is homogenous and positive. In contrast, the judgment of the sublime is limitative in uniting the reality of pleasure with its negation - displeasure.
Tension  
Feelings (1) Experiencing pleasure in the beautiful (and the harmonious play of the faculties involved) excludes full conceptual knowledge of the object and so gives rise to the prevalent feeling of delight. Still it involves certain activity of understanding within the mood of disinterested attraction.
(2) The feeling of satisfaction in the sublime is much more complex. In fact it is mixed. It is rendered possible only through the mediation of displeasure which arises from a tension between imagination and reason.
  We are talking about the feeling of the beautiful and the feeling of the sublime owing to the unresolved tension between the power of representation (imagination) and the power of concepts (understanding or reason). The feeling is delightful as long as these power are engaged in a harmonious play (the beautiful). Once the interplay becomes disharmonious the pleasure turns into a displeasure, even anguish and the joy of aesthetical perception vanishes.
Twofold Satisfaction This gives rise to a pretty complex pleasure stemming from two different sensations:
(a) one that accompanies the failing imagination, and
(b) another one accompanying the demanding reason.
The result is not simply an aesthetic pleasure but a "negative" pleasure. The "negative" pleasure requires a derivation of sensible interest. The sublime indicates the ability to esteem something in opposition to our sensible interest. In contrast, it arouses enthusiasm for the non-sensible. Thus a mixed feeling of exaltation and fear for our sensible interest emerges from the conflicting tendencies of inhibition and relief. Thought is both attracted and repelled by the experience of the sublime. Our first reaction in experiencing sublimity is to make sure that we are still in one piece and if the test comes positive we can enjoy the power and the vastness of the natural object.
  The differences between the two feelings of pleasure, the aesthetical of taste (the beautiful) and the aesthetical feeling of sublimity, could be summarized in the following way:
 
SATISFACTION
 
 
Beautiful
Sublime
Feeling Pleasure is direct Pleasure is indirect
Quality Pleasure is positive / Attraction Pleasure is negative / Repulsion
Manifestation Furtherance of Life Momentary checking of Vital Powers
Character Joy and Delight Admiration and Awe
Fitting Compatible with physical charms Incompatible with physical charms
Mood Involved in the play of imagination No play - serious emotion
   
(IV) Disproportion The judgment that arises from the feeling of the sublime represents the subjective play of mental powers. But it is not a free play arising from the harmony of mental powers as was the case with the beautiful. On the contrary, it bears witness to the internal struggle between the faculties that stand in a disproportion. Reason pressures imagination for an aesthetic comprehension of the infinite, i.e. to present the absolute. Imagination is not able to meet the demand at once and it does violence to itself under this pressure. Therefore the two faculties part.
Proliferation Imagination is the power that breaks the harmony of mental powers by producing aesthetical ideas. The imagination that operates aesthetically is so productive that it exceeds the productive power of the understanding. By proliferating forms imagination prevents understanding from fully imposing its rules and principles. Thus a free play of mental activities emerges in the reflective judgment of taste while imagination enters into a sensitive balance with understanding. Obviously imagination can represent objects in forms that surpass the ability of understanding to conceptualize them. It can even prevent the recognition by concepts in so far as they are dependent on the operation of understanding. In this capacity it is an a priori condition of aesthetical judgment and hence must be universally communicable.
Excessiveness The emergence of the feeling of the sublime can be interpreted (Lyotard has noticed this) as a radicalization of aesthetical disruption through imagination. Only this time the aesthetical feeling cuts loose by activating additional resources of the faculty of concepts. Now the forms generated by imagination are being opposed not by the "exhausted" understanding but by reason which introduces the power of concepts over unrepresentable objects. Reason operates with ideas (not rules and categories) that cannot be possibly accommodated in any presentation. Their objects are limitless and absolute and thus unrepresentable. Thus imagination sustains defeat in its effort to provide a certain form. It reacts by excessively proliferating the forms with their limits and bounds but this strategy does not prove effective nor can it enter in a free play with reason. This creates the mood of seriousness stemming from the missing form which is forever bound to be limited and thus unsatisfying. Before the ideas of reason or the absolute all forms are inane. We are dealing with the sublime.
   
  Note: The difference between these two types of disruption lies at the heart of two ever opposing aesthetics. The first one, the figural, defies the concept by giving precedence to the form. The second one, the abstract, defies the form by giving precedence to the concept. (Cf. J.F. Lyotard, Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime, p. 76)
   
(V) Purposiveness The lack of limit in the objects deemed to be sublime destroys not only any concept that could be applied to the sublime but any purposiveness in the object. The principle of purposiveness that we assume in regarding nature as a kind of big artist (what Kant calls the technique of nature) is not applicable to our judgments about the sublime. On the contrary we deem objects as sublime when they conform to our inability to apprehend the purposiveness of natural objects. The purposiveness in the beautiful is not conceived either - it is not supplied by the understanding, it is only felt apart from the representation of any purpose. But the sublime a priori eliminates any purposiveness except for the one that defines the possible use of our intuitions of it. This purposiveness pertains only to the workings of the representations of imagination. Therefore it does not display anything purposive in nature. However, it indicates a higher purposiveness in us - moral.
Inadequacy Kant calls this last point "the most important distinction". It indicates that the sublime is an idea of reason which lacks an adequate representation although the inadequacy itself allows of sensible presentation and even requires it without being able to ever achieve it.
Relation Form and purposiveness represent the backdrop against which Kant elaborates the differences along the remaining two categories: relation and modality.
The comparison in terms of relation could be summarized by means of the following table:
 
RELATION
 
BEAUTIFUL SUBLIME
B. brings with it purposiveness in its form. S. violates the form of purpose.
B. adapts natural forms to our judgment. S. negates the form of naturalness in our judgment.
B. suited to our representational faculty (Imagination) S. unsuited to our representational faculty (doing violence to Imagination)
B. brings affinity with the free play of imagination. S. holds back approval for ingenuity.
   
(VI) No Natural Object In view of the last two points of difference Kant argues that, strictly speaking, we cannot call any object of nature sublime. Since sublimity pertains to the supersensible no natural object could be an adequate representation of the ideas about the supersensible. In this sense it is not objective - it is not a property of any object.
  Kant elaborates the remaining differences between the beautiful and the sublime with regard to the fundamental distinction in the "naturalness" of their respective objects.
   
Further Differences
Naming We justifiably call some objects of nature beautiful It is incorrect to call any object of nature sublime
Ground There is an external ground for the beautiful of nature The ground for the sublime is in ourselves - not in the object of nature
Containment Sensible form can contain the beautiful Sensible form cannot contain the sublime
Structure Natural beauty reveals the principle of purposiveness in nature The sublime displays nothing purposive in nature itself.
Concern Concerns indefinite concepts of understanding and the concept of Nature Concerns only ideas of Reason
Analogy The presence of the beautiful allows to view nature as analogous to art The sublime does not point to any analogous principles or forms in nature
Consequence A system in accord with laws (not just purposeless mechanism but as a "technique of Nature" Chaos, disorder, desolation; Size independent of purposiveness in Nature
   
  If we take a closer look at these additional differences we easily see that they are not less important than the preceding ones. Two points deserve to be particularly stressed:
(1) The concepts of reason (= ideas) do not belong to any natural object. Therefore the sublime does not reside in objects. Stormy ocean is not sublime in itself. An object may be only suitable for the presentation of something that occurs in the mind as sublime.
(2) The sublime is contrary to a definite form. Nature excites the feeling of sublimity in its wildest and most irregular appearances bordering with disorder and chaos.
Naturalness We can speak of beautiful natural objects because they appear as purposefully created to make us aware of the congruence of our cognitive faculties. But the objects we judge sublime are not conducive to that congruency - on the contrary, they lack both form and purposiveness. Therefore the objects in nature cannot bear sublimity as the violation of form and purpose. At most they may be fit to produce such a feeling in us.
  Note: This remark explains the apparent discrepancy in Kant's exposition: On the one hand, he speaks about sublimity always in the context of natural objects (wide ocean, stormy weather, huge rivers, great waterfalls, etc), but on the other hand, he denies that they are sublime. These natural scenes can only arouse the feeling of sublimity by stirring the mind to think of ideas instead of remaining captured by sensibility.
Subjectivity Our judgment of the beautiful is based on some external grounds - there must be something in the object to make us feel it as beautiful.
In contrast, Kant says that sublimity is entirely a product of our mind, not a characteristic of any object. To make our judgment of the sublime we do not need to go outside our subjectivity and look for any external reasons for the feeling of sublimity. Aesthetic judgment about the sublime are therefore even more "subjective" than the judgment about the beautiful.
  Note 1: The feeling of the sublime is subjective in the sense that it is a reflective judgment judging the state of feeling that makes the subject aware of its own state. (Lyotard calls this reflexivity "tautegorical".)
Not Objectless Note 2: This does not mean that the experience of the sublime is possible without any object or regardless of the qualities of the object. As Paul Geyer states, Kant supposes that "the feeling of the sublime is a response to a particular experience engendered by external objects" ("Kant's Principles of Reflecting Judgment", p. 40). The sublime object induces the experience of limitlessness although in its totality. Otherwise Kant would not name a whole range of objects that may cause the feeling of sublimity, like "overhanging and threatening cliffs", "volcanoes with their all-destroying violence", "the boundless ocean set into a rage", "a lofty waterfall of a mighty river", etc. Therefore the meaning of the previous disclaimer that there is nothing sublime in the nature is just that it is impossible for the concepts of reason (ideas of infinity and totality) to belong to any natural object. The universal we are looking for in the experience of the sublime is the rational idea of infinity (infinite magnitude or infinite might) which is not given in experience but is provoked by it. The sublime is an aesthetical representation of the powers of our mind and this is the reason why Kant denies its objective character.
(VII) Analogy We look at nature on the analogy of art. This means, we do not understand it just as mechanically connected aggregate of phenomena but as a purposive whole as well. The analogy consists in an operation that transposes a relation from one realm to another. Thus, although the purposiveness of nature is not an objective principle of natural technology we must assume it as a principle of judging of natural phenomena. This holds true for the judgments of the beautiful but not for those upon the sublime.
Modality Finally, with regard to the last logical category, that of modality, Kant establishes several parallels between the feeling of the beautiful and the feeling of the sublime.
 
MODALITY
Both feelings must be made representable.
Both must be representable in their subjective purposiveness.
This purposiveness must be represented as necessary.
   
Necessity The pleasure resulting from the feeling of sublimity entails certain unification performed as a kind of subjective purposiveness to bring about the feeling of sublimity. The necessity of purposiveness is not identical in both cases. The necessary purposiveness of the sublime is a subjective sensation as is the feeling of the beautiful, but unlike the latter it only develops "a purposive use which imagination makes of its own representation". That is to say, it involves the representation of a different kind that Kant calls Idea. Insofar as the sublime feeling is related to the concept of reason it is represented by an idea in its speculative use. To be sure it is not conceived as an idea but only felt as such. Still it raises claim for universal assent.
24  
Categorial Framework Although less conspicuous than in the analytic of the beautiful the division into logical classes provides the framework for the specific analysis of the sublime as well. The only difference is that it starts with the category of quantity which is understandable given the absence of form and preponderance of magnitude. The sublime is inevitably articulated with regard to quantity as it is not based on the form but on the magnitude of the object.

Class of Categories (1) With regard to quantity Kant argues that delight in the sublime is universally valid like the one in the beautiful.
(2) With regard to quality both kinds of reflective judgments are indefinite, but for different reasons. The beautiful affirms the delight derived from the form, the sublime from the lack of form.
(3) The sublime feeling is subjectively purposive without entailing the concept of an end (analogy with the the judgment of taste holds).
(4) Finally, we seek that all subjects would regard the given object as sublime and feel the same delight.
Thus we get pretty much the same categorial distributuion as with the beautiful.
 
Quantity Universally valid
Quality Disinterested
Relation Subjective purposiveness
Modality Necessary
Feeling Delight What makes us feel delight in contemplating a sublime object? It is not its existence but sheer greatness. How can sheer greatness and our inability to grasp it be experienced as pleasurable and purposive to our cognitive faculties? By referring us to the faculty of conceiving the ideas of reason and awakening the feeling of supersensible power in us.
The satisfaction in the sublime can also claim universal validity and communicability. However, they are achieved by virtue of human moral nature that requires universal recognition.
"Slippage" In his lectures on Kant's aesthetics J.F. Lyotard remarks that the same categorial "slippage" that he found in the analytic of the beautiful occurs in the analytic of the sublime (p. 83). Kant contends that the judgment upon the sublime does not purport to hold only for the judging subject. It demands the assent of everyone. If this feature is called universality, then it surreptiously introduces the universality of modality - that is to say - necessity. The universality of a judgment attributing the predicate of magnitude would consist in attributing it to the totality of the judgment's subject (all men). But Kant claims only that when I judge this man to be tall every person should judge this man to be great. This is not the universality of the relation between the subject and the predicate but the universality of the relation of the judgment to the judging faculty no matter whether it is understanding or feeling.
   
   
 

Subdivision of the Sublime
   
Source - Impossibility The analytic of the sublime focuses on apprehension and comprehension as the main subjective sources of our knowledge. Or better to say, it focuses on the inability of imagination and understanding to render possible apprehension and comprehension. This failure occurs because in the case of the sublime these powers are not capable to synthetize the givens into something surveyable.
Note: In its turn this hampers the ability of recognition and reproduction but Kant does not take them into account as they characterize the judgments of understanding rather than imagination.
Reflective The judgment of the sublime is reflective in the sense that it searches for a universal (the powers of reason) in response to a given (particular) experience.
Division Kant discusses the sublime under two headings: mathematical and dynamic. He contends that we may judge natural objects to be sublime for two reasons:
(a) either because we attribute to them absolute magnitude and we judge them accordingly to be absolutely great,
or
(b) because they provoke in us the feeling that nature is overpowering us and we judge these objects as possessing absolute might.

In the first case the imagination grasps the aspects of nature that are so vast that they simply resist the comprehension by means of the understanding. The faculty of judgment then makes its estimate based on the rational idea of infinity. In the second case the imagination manages to overcome the threat of powerful natural forces by resorting to the power of practical reason which provides a satisfaction arising from our ability to overcome a purely physical determination.

Note: The origin of this division is to be traced back to the Critique of Pure Reason in which Kant divided the cosmological ideas into two classes: mathematical and dynamical. While the former pertain to the magnitude of the world and the objects it contains the latter are about the dynamical relation of the conditioned to the condition in the universe. Within a mathematical series of appearances only a sensible condition is admissible whereas in the dynamical series a purely intelligible condition may be allowed. The dynamical ideas are concerned only with the existence of an object not with its magnitude. The division of a priori determinations into mathematical and physically dynamical is explicated in terms of two kinds of certainty: intuitive versus discursive. The claim that every phenomenon is an extensive magnitude or that every sensation has an intensive magnitude is backed by an intuitive certainty. On the other hand, the assertion that phenomena are linked in time is based on a discursive certainty.
Syntheses Another version of the above mentioned division is the distinction between the mathematical and dynamical synthesis. Kant explicates the former as "puting together" of elements that do not necessarily belong to one another while the latter represents a connexion of elements that are linked a priori although they are heterogenous.
Combination Composition (compositio) or combination is the synthesis of homogenuous constituents that do not necessarily belong together (for instance, the relation of the two triangles obtained by drawing the diagonal of a square). Composition could be best defined by saying that it is the successive addition of one part to another. It is performed by imagination and could be advanced indefinitely. But it requires the cooperation of both apprehension and reproduction - the latter being necessary for the constitution of the time supplied to the constitution of objects according to their extensive magnitudes.
Connexion Connection (nexus) is the relation between the constituents that are heterogenous although they entail each other so that their synthesis becomes necessary (for instance, the relation between the cause and the effect).
Application The relevance of Kant's previous distinctions for the proper understanding of the two ways of experiencing sublime will become manifest in what follows (see below).
Two Forms Speaking about the mathematically sublime and the dynamically sublime may suggest that these are two different kinds of sublime: the mathematical sublime and the dynamical sublime. They are not. They are only two ways of considering the sublime of nature. The same phenomenon could be the object of both ways of feeling sublime. Therefore it is preferable to use the adverbial form and to avoid speaking about the mathematical and the dynamical sublime, as some commentators do (for instance, H.W. Cassirer).

A. Explanation of the term Sublime

  The part marked with the capital letter A comprises three whole sections (25 - 27). In the original it bears the title "of the Mathematically Sublime" but it deals with the mathematically sublime proper only after a lenghty general explications of the sublime.
25  
   
Order of Categories We have seen that the analytic of the sublime starts with the category of quantity. This is understandable given the absence of form which has been traditionally associated with quality. However, quantity is essential for the sublime in a yet another sense - it is related to the sensation of greatness.
Definition and Distinction Kant begins his discussion of the sublime with a blunt statement about the link between sublimity and greatness:
"We call that sublime which is absolutely great."
The greatness of sublimity - absolute greatness - is different from the common greatness that we ascribe to many big objects. It must not be confused with the greatness in the latter sense, no matter how big it may be.
Ambiguity of Greatness Before clarifying what does it mean to say that something is great Kant points to an ambiguity in the use of the word "great".
He says, to be something great could mean two different things, to be great by magnitude or by quantity.
We can represent these two kinds of common greatness by means of the following duality:
Two Aspects
Magnitudo Quantitas
Being great by magnitude Being a great something
Measure of unit Number - Multiplicity
"(That) it is great" "How great it is"
   
Comparison Our understanding tells us a priori that everything must have a magnitude and it gives us the category of quantity to express it. Anything could be cognized as a quantifiable magnitude even without comparison with other things provided it is being intuited as consisting of a multiplicity of homogenous parts. But to cognize how great is something we need some other magnitude as measure which will possess certain magnitude. To determine how great is something would then mean to state the size of the unit along with the number of units. Quantity always presupposes a numerical expression - how many times a unit occurs in it.
Dependency The judging of sensible magnitude depends both on multiplicity (number) and the magnitude of the unit (measure). When we say that something is great then we mean that it is greater than the objects of the same kind (not only that it has a magnitude). Thus whenever we say for something that it is simply great this presupposes a certain standard.
Simpliciter Simply great is what is great measured by some other magnitude as a unit (quantitatively) and in comparison with other greatnesses (as points of reference and differentiation). In saying that something is "great" we always presuppose a standard or measure although it may not be specified and explicitly stated. This means that we do not assess common greatness just based on what we sense nor do we estimate it a priori by means of understanding. The estimation may look as a conceptual operation, and yet the estimation of magnitude can never be purely a logical one; Kant argues convincingly that the judgment of magnitude is rather an aesthetical one, especially if it includes a subjective standard within a reflective judgment.
Standard A standard could be either empirical or non-empirical:
Empirical A priori
Average size Concrete idea (like justice)

If the standard is empirical it typically exemplifies the average size; conversely, if it is a priori it is an idea given in concrete circumstances (for instance, as the quality of good rule).
Relativity
Determination of the magnitude of natural phaenomena is always relative (small, big, medium). Relative assessments coincide with different attitudes.
The representation of greatness is associated with respect as the representation of smallness is linked with certain amount of contempt.
Two Greatness However, the major difference on which Kant particularly insists, is to be found not between something great and simply great but between what is simply great and what is absolutely great.
  How does judging work for two ways of ascribing greatness, simple and absolute? To demonstrate the difference between simple and absolute attribution of greatness Kant analyzes two respective judgments: (1) "This man is tall", and (2) "This is absolutely great."
   
(1) Great Simply "This man is tall." (or in general, 'X is great - simply'.)
Meaning Kant argues that the above statement is not a mathematically definite judgment. It is a judgment of reflection in the estimation of certain magnitude. It says that the represented object (a man) has a certain magnitude and this magnitude is superior to that of many other objects of the same kind.
Subjectivity When one pronounces this judgment there is no objective measure available.
When one pronounces this judgment there is no direct comparison in sight. Therefore the judgment is subjective, relative to our use and purposiveness, not exact and consequently not suited for the standards of mathematical estimation.
And yet, once pronounced, such a judgment claims universal assent. We believe that other subjects will feel the same as we before the object although we do not ground that feeling on any exact measuring.
Standard This feeling is there because there is an assumed standard in the judgment. It is real as the feeling that other subjects will approve the object we regard as beautiful. But the standard for our expectation is available only for aesthetical reflective judging and is provided by the judging subjects themselves.
Magnitude is a property of the object, quantity is a category of judgment. Quantity refers to the number of units contained in a magnitude which is perceived as homogenous.
Cognition Thus we see that the judgment of magnitude is ultimately an aesthetical judgment. While based on intuition and the workings of imagination it is still not necessarily the judgment about the sublime. It is not an aesthetical judgment of the sublime because it is not a judgment about the absolutely great. Now Kant asks how do we cognize the absolutely great, something that is great beyond any comparison?
Absolute
Absolutely great is what is great beyond all comparisons (non comparative magnum), great without qualification. Such is the greatness of the sublime.
The magnitude of the sublime is not measurable as a quantity - it requires a new term to express its greatness - and Kant finds it in the infinite magnitude. The difference between something that is simply great and something that is absolutely great could be expressed in the following way:
 
Simpliciter Absolute
Something is more or less great Something is absolutely great
Standard Comparison No Comparison
Divorce Kant divorces absolute greatness from any quantity no matter how sizeable it may be. The relationship between the two is exclusive. A sublime object cannot have a measurable quantity. And the other way round, a quantity cannot be absolute.
While a simple attribution of greatness meant that it was one among other greatnesses (differences) the absolute attribution denotes the greatness itself (identity).
Concept Which faculty of the mind produces and uses the concept of the "absolutely great", great beyond any comparison? Which faculty enables us to identify something in nature as absolutely great? Kant considers several candidates before naming the right one:
Elimination
- It is not the sense because intuition in itself can never produce a judgment let alone determine greatness. Intuitions need concepts to be able to determine something as great in terms of quantity. No object of senses (quantity) is sublime.
- It is not the understanding although it makes use of the category of quantity and although we know by virtue of understanding that every empirical object must possess magnitude. Understanding presupposes something as a measure and standard of comparison but measuring something comparatively never yields the absolutely great.
- Is it not reason for its ideas are about the supersensible and therefore not apt to recognize a sensible object as absolutely great. Every sensible object is infinitely small for the ideas of reason.
Faculty By elimination Kant reaches the conclusion that the concept of the absolutely great can be a product only of the faculty of Judgment. That judgment is aesthetical, not cognitive. It asserts that something is great beacuse we feel we cannot imagine any greater object. We feel this without wanting to compare this particular object with any other object.
Concept of Judgment It is an aesthetical magnitude which spares the object from numerical estimation. Its measure is not comparative but apprehended at once. Hence this magnitude is not a concept of understanding or an intuition of the senses. Even less a concept of reason. Therefore it must be a concept of Judgment. Its starting measure is called "first", although it's not really a unit .
Note: "First or fundamental measure" is the starting, arbitrarily chosen unit to measure magnitude, the measuring measure. For imagination, it is the greatest presentable magnitude by the eye. But it is not possible for understanding as it does not recognize any maximum or minimum measure.
Non-Cognitive Judgment The absolutely great is cognized by the faculty of judgment although it does not involve any principle of cognition. The judgment that enables us to recognize something as absolutely great is an aesthetical judgment, not one based on an objectively quantifiable measure. The absolutely great is not a cognitive but an aesthetical concept. It is a judgment that expresses our feeling that nothing greater could exist. We simply cannot envision a greater object nor can we grasp the existing one in its entirety.
Reflective Judgment The judgment is subjective since the object itself is not really estimated. It is not measured by any standard because absolutely great does not allow any objective standard in expressing its magnitide. It lacks standard because it is one of the kind. Only the judging subject can provide a quasi standard by assessing the object in relation to the subject itself. Therefore the ensuing judgment is reflective - it produces a state of mind by a certain representation connected with a respective satisfaction.
Satisfaction Sheer size may bring satisfaction even if the object is formless - the satisfaction is then in the extension (stretch) of imagination rather than in the object itself. And yet Kant believes that this satisfaction is universally communicable. Like the satisfaction in the beautiful it involves the consciousness of subjective purposiveness in the use of our cognitive faculty (not to be confused with the cognition in general).
Validity The judgment about the sublime claims universal validity because it does not have any interest in the existence of the object judged to be sublime. It simply derives pleasure in its greatness. We regard this pleasure as universally communicable since we assume that everyone subject will feel the same when exposed to it.
Inadaptability This inevitably reminds us on Kant's analysis of the beautiful which also includes universal comminicability. However, the difference with the judgment of the beautiful is that we judge something to be sublime precisely when we are incapable of grasping it as a whole. Therefore we can by no means say that the object adapts itself to our judgment which in turn (as is the case with the beautiful) purports to reflect the purposive form of the object.
Pleasurable Inability The question is, of course, how our inability to grasp an object due to its greatness can give us a pleasure at all? Even more, how it can give us the feeling that it is purposive in relation to the way our cognitive powers operate?
Missed Totality Our imagination has a natural tendency to proceed indefinitely with the apprehension of the given manifold, but it can never attain the totality of a given sensible object. We want to satisfy the striving of imagination toward infinite progress as we raise claim for absolute reality in our reason in the form of a real idea. Since our representation of infinity and of absolute whole is by definition inadequate this gives rise to the feeling of supersensible faculty. The inability itself does not give a pleasure no more than the object itself. The pleasure springs from the feeling of the supersensible that is awakened by the inability of our faculty of understanding to get a grip of the totality of things.
Real Greatness The object judged to be sublime is not purposive. The only purpose it brings about is to entice us to think of our faculty of conceiving the ideas of reason thus enabling the faculty of judgment to make reference to the faculty of the supersensible. According to Kant, to entice the feeling of the supersensible is exactly what makes up the greatness (in a figurative sense) of this experience (not the object).

  Of the Mathematically Sublime
   
  Kant explains the notion of the mathematically sublime by means of the absolutely great. The statement below states the essence of the mathematically sublime:
(2) Great Absolutely "This is absolutely great." (sublime)
Meaning The meaning of this statement could be explicated only in this way: the object in question is so great that in comparison with it everything else becomes small. As every comparison with it proves inadequate we should realize that it is a "magnitude which is like itself alone" (one of the kind).
Standard Since the mathematically sublime is great beyond any comparison and in every respect it is clear that there is no adequate standard outside it to express its magnitude and greatness. The only measure of the sublime is the sublime itself.
Ideas Therefore no natural object, regardless of its enormous size, can embody the sublime. Nothing in the senses could be called sublime, for our imagination can always make it small in the same way as it can make every small thing great (think of microscope and telescope). But since the sublime is not in the objects (things of nature) we also realize that it resides only in our ideas of nature.
Denaturing
Note: This separation from nature gives rise to the "aesthetics of denaturing" or "denatured aesthetics" (Lyotard). It is an "aesthetics of defience" that not only parallels the resistance of the judgment of taste to any categorization but significantly exceeds it. The sublime is even more rugged than the beautiful as it "denies the imagination the power of forms, and denies nature the power to immediately affect the thinking with forms." By practicing precisely these two denials on a larger scale, modern abstract art appropriates the sublime for its own goal of showing that there is something that could be conceived of although not made visible.
State of Mind The sublime is therefore the state of mind produced by a certain representation - the faculty of mind surpassing every standard sense. In other words, the sublime is something that we can think and while thinking it we demonstrate the faculty that cannot be sensibly or conceptually circumscribed. We have the feeling of a supersensible faculty arising from the inadequatness of the idea of totality (reason) for the apprehension of an infinite progress (conducted by imagination).
Exclusion

Where should we look for the objects that can induce the feekling of such a faculty?
Kant clearly states that the sublime is not to be found in things of nature whose concepts have a definite purpose no matter how big they are (elephants, giraffes or even dinosaures).
It is not exhibited in products of art that embody human purpose (buildings, pillars).
Thus the sublime does not "reside" either in products of art or in objects of nature and is "not mingled" with teleological judgment or judgment of reason.

Prodigious (Monstruous) The sublime must be exhibited (if at all) only in (c)rude nature and this only as a sheer magnitude. This is different from that what Kant calls monstruous or "prodigious" (das Ungeheure). Monstruous or prodigious (be it magnificent or horrible) is an object which by its size destroys the end (purpose) which constitutes its concept. Similarly, the "colossal" (das Kolossalisch) qualifies the presentation of something "almost too large", but rather as a concept. Thus the monstruous and the colossal are the characteristics of an object in its relation to its purpose and concept. An object which is perceived as monstruous or colossal can be sublime only if it does not generate an overwhelming feeling of fear or attraction.
Conditions In order to judge something as mathematically sublime we must:
(a) realize that our imagination does not suffice to comprehend the absolutely great - which makes us aware of our human limitations.
(b) resort to our rational faculty which supplies a non-sensuous standard that surpasses every sensible measure and so makes us feel superior to every greatness of nature.
   
Lexicon The Sublime = Pure magnitude that could be increased ad libitum and is judged independent of any concept or purpose.
The Monstruous = An object that, by its size, destroys the purpose which constitutes its concept (for instance, Godzilla, King Kong).
The Colossal = A concept almost too great for any representation and almost unmanageable for any apprehension. (A projected bridge over the Berring Sea)
   
The Infinite The genuinely mathematically sublime is the one which is absolutely great based on the idea of infinity. As such it is beyond any comparison.
There is no arithmetic of infinity for the sublime; if it exists it has only one axiom which makes every other magnitude small in comparison with it.
Human Largness Note: Derrida asks why does Kant call the sublime "absolutely great" although it is not a quantity and certainly not a measurable quantity? Why it is described as the absolutely great and not as the absolutely small? Since it is unmeasurable it does not make a difference. Why then this preference for largness? Derrida suspects with good reasons that this language reveals a hidden measure, the implicit standard provided by our own body and the underlying idea that largness pleases.
The Whole At the same time it allows a reflection of itself as a whole. Thinking infinity as a whole, of course, surpasses every standard of sense. Every definite standard (including numbers) is inadequate for indefinite and infinite simply because it bears a certain relation or size. The judgment of the sublime must be accordingly an aesthetical estimation of pure magnitude.
   
Noumenal Nature The only way to think the mathematically sublime is to use the faculty of the supersensible and its idea of a noumenon (intelligible, not sensible reality). It is not intuitive although it grounds the intuition of the world (phenomenal nature). Nature is sublime in those phenomena whose intuition gives rise to the idea of infinity. This idea results from the inability of imagination to estimate the magnitude of infinity. It cannot be completely thought by mathematical (numerical) estimation either. It requires the faculty of supersensible intuition which only can conceive the mathematically sublime. But the mathematically sublime does not reside in sensible nature and is not captured by the faculty of mathematical estimation.
  Note: Kant distinguishes between mathematical estimation of infinity which is purely numerical and assumes an intuitive measure (unit) and the mathematically sublime which refer to the unmeasurable and non-numerical greatness of the faculty of the supersensible. The two should not be therefore confused.
Estimation The faculty which thinks the absolutely infinite is the faculty of the supersensible. What is needed for apprehension of the sublime is a purely intellectual estimation of magnitude that surpasses the numerical progression starting from any "fundamental measure". The only appropriate fundamental measure of nature is "its absolute whole" which comes down to a comprehended infinity. Reason pushes imagination to reach the limit of an infinite series precisely from the point of view of quantity. In doing this thinking encounters the unrepresentable, the impossibility of a comprehensive synthesis of the infinite - it is impossible to canvas the otality of an infinite progress. This in turn points to a supersensible substrate of something that is great beyond any sensible measure.
Unpresentable The price for presenting that unpresentable exists is the self-inflicted violence which the faculties of the mind sustain in the feeling of the sublime. Imagination does violence to itself in order to present that it cannot present any longer. Reason violates her own prohibition not to seek objects that correspond to her concepts in sensible intuition (J.F. Lyotard, Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime, p. 54-55). Why these transgressions are allowed within "pure", "rational" and "critical" philosophy? The answer: They result from the unsupressable desire of thinking for limitlessness - thinking defies its own finitude and so to say enjoys its excessiveness. If it can define the a priori conditions then it can go behind its own conditioned nature and push toward the absolute.
Location The ideal place to experience the sublime, i.e. the inadequacy of "Larger than largness" (Derrida) is the "average" place of the body. It provides "an aesthetic maximum (apprehension) without losing itself in the mathematical infinite (comprehension)". We need to be far enough to apprehend the size but close enough to comprehend the object in the togetherness of its parts and we can do that from the position of our body.
   
   
26 The estimation of magnitude could be done in two ways:
(a) Mathematically (by means of numbers), and (b) aesthetically (by the eye).
The two methods differ in several respects:
 
Mathematical Aesthetical
progresses by adding units grasps objects as a whole
units are known quantity uses fundamental unit as present
not determinable further objectively changes with the size of object
progresses indefinitely does not progress indefinitely
no absolutely great arrives at absolutely great
  When we conduct mathematical estimation there are no obstacles in the process because the understanding provides concepts of numbers no matter whether we can grasp intuitively the units or not. We simply add units regardless of their quantity or magnitude.
In contrast, aesthetica estimation of magnitude faces an obstacles as it proceeds. When we estimate a magnitude aesthetically the imagination has to grasp the fundamental unit in one intuition, which is not always possible beyond certain size. The greater the object the greater the unit, but at one point we'll reach the limit.
Mathematical Synthesis In mathematical estimation the magnitude is supposed to be of certain size without being actually determined. How can we grasp the unit? It can be determined only directly, by intuition. Ultimately, every estimation of magnitude in nature is aesthetical due to this intuitive point of departure.

Two Operations The fundamental unit of measuring must be determined intuitively by imagination. For its part, imagination has to perform two operations in order to grasp something intuitively. It needs to perform both comprehension (putting together several representations), and apprehension (the immediate awareness of an individual representation). The comprehension in question is aesthetical, to be sure, not the logical one that consists in sheer summation. The "first measure" of imagination's comprehension is the subjectively absolute measure whichever size it assumes.
Progression A magnitude is apprehended intuitively by the number of its parts. A concept determines the number of times the apprehension should be supplied by imagination - and that number changes. It is no accident that the mathematical synthesis occurs in a way corresponding to the categories of quantity and quality. Mathematical estimation is only progressive - it proceeds by addition, although indefinitely.
Imagination and understanding are in accord in this process as long as they proceed by reccurrence and imagination retains the apprehension of all parts. The infinite thus obtained is a progression and it does not have any limit. Understanding can easily conceive any composition of increasing units. But it does not produce aesthetical judgments.
Hindrance In and by itself apprehesion could be carried on indefinitely, which at first glance suggests that aesthetical estimation could never reach its maximum (the absolutely great). However, comprehension stumbles at the point when it faces the absolute measure for the estimation of a magnitude. The inability to intuitively represent the unity of the fundamental unit and its progression hinders the apprehension as well. The result is that we judge an object to be absolutely great due to the awareness that our imagination cannot find a measure great enough to measure it.
Note Note: If the standard is not objective and suitable for mathematical estimation one can ask why Kant calls this type of judging sublimity mathematical. To answer this question we must remember that mathematical synthesis has two meanings: one numerical (which never reaches the sublime) and one intuitive (which points to the infinite). No object is judged to be absolutely great by mathematical determinant judgments. They always determine how great something is by means of a comparison, objectively, no matter how great it really is. But the very comparison puts the object into finite boundaries.
Consciousness The awareness that nothing sensible could be great enough to measure the absolutely great produces the idea of a supersensible standard that could be supplied only by virtue of reason. The progression of understanding toward the infinite is called the mathematically sublime. It presents no problem for imagination that can easily supply an asequate measure. But the thought of somethimng that makes everything else small is not one of the understanding. It is an aesthetical judgment that refers imagination to reason. Since the judgment is aesthetical, imagination cannot refer to the concepts of reason either but only to its principle. An indefinite relation between imagination and reason is felt as purposive subjectively and this consciousness of a connection with the supersensible fills us with pleasure. We like to be reminded that we are not just sensuous beings.
27 Quality of Feeling  
Respect

When we judge the mathematically sublime or absolutely great we refer the representation of the object to the idea of absolute totality. Since we refer our representation of the object to the ideas of the whole and infinity the feeling of sublimity has one peculiar characteristic. Since these ideas are rational and cannot be reached by imagination we react with the feeling of respect for the object of representation. All the more so as we rationally realize that the greatness of an object is above our comprehension although binding as our human destiny. This means that our respect in fact goes toward the principle of reason that is involved in conceiving these ideas rather than toward the object itself.

Rationality An entirely rational being would not feel this kind of respect because it would be in full harmony with the content of these ideas. Thus the feeling of respect for the sublime in natural objects is nothing else but respect for human rational determination. Kant says accordingly that when we believe we respect the sublimity in the object we in fact respect the idea of humanity in ourselves.
Mixture The respect involved here is a mixture of pleasure and pain, the former arising from our awareness that we also belong to the realm of the supersensible, the latter stemming from the realization that we can never be in full harmony with it. The same combination occurs in our judgment about the sublime. We feel pleasure beacause our own reason can judge every sensible object to be small in comparison with our own idea of absolute totality. On the other hand, pain arises from the realization that our imagination cannot visualize the magnitude of the absolute that we are expected to conform to. This pain is caused by the lack of harmony between the aesthetical estimation of imagination (sensuous estimation) and the ideal estimation performed by reason. The latter does not accept any sensible measure as the yardstick of greatness. Despite this disharmony the outcome is still predominantly pleasurable because we recognize this inability ourselves and we still belive that these ideas should be our determination. Paradoxically, pain makes us aware of our supersensible destination by providing the awareness of our inability to represent it sensibly and reach it as sensous beings. But a rational being takes pleasure in finding that imagination and sensous intuition cannot lead us far enough.
Purposiveness But this pain is purposive in making us alert for our supersensible destiny - that we can raise ourselves beyond the world of senses and be attracted by that what we cannot comprehend. Although repulsive to imagination the object that we regard as sublime is embraced by reason. The object we judge as sublime is also purposive in the sense that its representation entices the mind to make a reference to reason. The purposiveness we ascribe to to the object is not the one of two harmonizing cognitive faculties (imaginationa nad understanding) but of disharmony. We still enjoy it because of the preponderance given to reason.
The subjective purposiveness in our judgment about the sublime is thus different from the one that we ascribe to the object when making the judgments about the beautiful. While in the former case we ascribe purposiveness based on the harmony of the faculties involved, in the latter case subjective purposiveness arises from their discord. It is the subjective purposiveness arising from the intellectual destination of our mind. We recognize ourselves as capable and destined for something supersensible and rational. Aesthetical judgment thus becomes purposive for reason in relation to the intellectual comprehension compared with which all aesthetical comprehension is very insufficient.
Process Nonetheless the attempt to think the never ending progression produces the feeling of sublimity. When understanding progresses both in reccurent addition of units as well as in the scale of their measures we realize that everything in nature sinks into insignificance. We get such a feeling because reason conceives the infinite of magnitude as a whole although it is not presentable at all. On the contrary, it exposes endless composition of nature as small. Mind is elevated while delivered both to imagination and reason. The process by which reason takes over in the course of the progression toward infinity is very complex and comprises several changes including the one that affects the state of mind.
 
Progression The whole
Composition Actual infinity
Representation Unrepresentable
Understanding Reason
Dizziness Anguish
Excitement Horror
 
The feeling of sublimity arises only when imagination faces the demand to provide an aesthetical apprehension of all the units included by composition in the progression at once (in a single moment).
Thus a person who beholds a pyramid or the interior of St. Peter's in Rome may be overwhelmed if s/he cannot comprehend in a glance the whole s/he can compose by successively adding the "fundamental measure".
Explanation Now we are in a position to understand previously unintelligible statements. The moment of displeasure inhering in the feeling of the sublime comes from the mathematical composition of the object that is experienced as sublime (the dynamical synthesis accounts for the moment of pleasure). The end result of composition cannot be comprehended at once as a whole. This embarasses imagination which is unable to provide an aesthetic synthesis of the infinite. The necessary synthesis of what is heterogenous makes the whole dynamical (for instance, the connection of cause and effect). The tension between the object that resists imagination and the idea of the whole creates the feeling that we have a concept whose object cannot be intuited.
   
Paradox We perceive the inadequacy of our faculty to grasp the object with the available means. Mathematical estimation provides a sufficient measure for every object except for the infinite. The mathematical synthesis by composition is unable to produce the representation of an absolutely infinitely magnitude. The whole of nature would be the only appropriate fundamental measure. Thus we have a paradox: the mathematically sublime cannot be estimated mathematically (perhaps only expressed by means of a formula). This leaves room for an aesthetical estimation that in turn gives rise to the feeling of sublimity.

 

B. Of the Dynamically Sublime in Nature

28 Might Another way how sublimity could be felt is the dynamically sublime. Unlike the mathematically sublime that arises when an object of nature is judged as infinite magnitude, the dynamically sublime occurs when nature is regarded as pure might.
  Note: The discussion of the dynamically sublime strecthes over three sections (28-30). The following summarizes the content of the first of the three.
Might - Dominion Kant first distinguishes between the notion of power (might) and the notion of dominion. These concepts are defined as follows:
  Power (Might) is that which is superior to great hindrances.
Dominion is might which is superior to the resistance of that which itself possesses might.
Definition By means of the above distinction Kant states that the object of nature that we judge as dynamically sublime appears to the judging subject as possessing infinite power (might) although no dominion over us.
Two Feelings The dynamically sublime is a complex feeling consisting of some negative and some pleasurable emotions. The negative emotions could be of two kinds that could coincide or coexist:
(1) the affection of fear, or (2) the feeling of insignificance.
(1) Fear What kind of sensations affects the mind when it tries to think the might of nature that we regard as dynamically sublime? Kant expounds the emotion in question as fear. Fear as it were constitutive for the dynamically sublime. Nature is dynamically sublime insofar as it is subjectively represented as the source of fear. Thus we can say that the dynamically sublime is stirred by the fear of nature (of its might) rather than by the magnitude of natural objects. So much so that we feel any attempt to resist its power as futile.
Superiority of Nature With regard to the above Kant explains why fear must be present when experiencing the sublime object of nature. The reason is that fear attests that we recognize the superiority of nature in judging its objects as sublime. The superiority of certain power to hindrances could be judged by the required resistance to oppose it. By definition humans resist something adverse which is for them obviously an evil. However, if we feel that we cannot resist something evil, that we are no match to it - as Kant puts it - this inevitably creates fear.
Fearfulness But we must fall short of being in an actual state of fear. We must be fearful but not afraid. If we were really afraid we would not be able to pass any judgment in the first place and therefore we would not have the feeling of sublimity. Why being afraid is not conducive to the feeling of sublimity? The one who is afraid cannot form any judgment about the sublime and cannot find any satisfaction in it. "It is impossible to find satisfaction in a terror that is seriously felt."
Note: Kant draws a parallel with the situation when inclinations take over and prevent judgment; by the same token, fear, if it overpowers, will inhibit any judgment. Kant explains the difference between being fearful and being afraid by pointing to the distinction between fearing God and being afraid of God. A virtuous man is fearful of God but he has no reason to be afraid of him unless he wants to really resist God's will. By the same token, we only feel fearful before the sublime if we want to resist it.
Imaginary The feeling of the dynamically sublime arises only when we put ourselves in the position of somebody who would have to oppose the overwhelming power of nature. When picturing us in that situation we clearly see that any resistance to it would be ineffective but we are not actually in that situation. This feeling is thus the feeling of imaginary helplesness rather than actual danger. Therefore we must be in security and still fearful. How? By only envisioning a situation we would like to resist and yet remaining aware that any resistance would be futile. This is possible only if the situation is still awsome and potentially dangerous. The more fearful a sight is the more attractive it is. If uneaseness is subdued by safe distance (but not totally eliminated by too big distance) we may feel a joy about the sublimity of the scene. Clearly, the situation is not a situation of an actual danger but the one of an imaginary danger.
State of Mind From another angle we realize that sublimity is not a propery of an object but the feeling that arises from our self-reflecting mind. Strictly speaking it is not nature in itself that is sublime but its appearance may give rise to the feeling of dynamically sublime. The affection of fear does not spring from the formidable object itself but from the imagination which feels uncomfortable when asked to provide an aesthetical comprehension of the infinite power. It cannot envision the needed resistence and this embarassment turns into anxiety.
Terrifying Nature Nature can be regarded as dynamically sublime only insofar it is terrifying.
Examples: errupting volcano, the lofty waterfall of a huge river, overhanging and threatening rocks, the boundless ocean in tumult.
   
Bipolarity The judgment of the sublime is not purely negative. In fact, it unites two heterogenous sensations: fear and excitement. The former refers to the presentable (sensuous magnitide), the latter to the unpresentable (destination). The result of this combination is an idea, the idea of freedom which manifests itself as fear and excitement at the same time.
Joint Both components and both powers are necessary for the sublime. Without the demand of reason no less than without the effort of imagination there will be no feeling of sublimity.
Comparison The effort to present the absolutely great is somewhat similar to the effort of the will to attain the good. But we should not forget that imagination is a faculty of knowing whereas the will is the faculty of desire. Therefore no surprise that the outcome is of different kind: in the former case it is aesthetical in the latter it is moral.
Reason What is the sensation stemming from reason when we think of the absolute whole? One may be tempted to point to respect. But respect is not an aesthetical feeling, it is a moral one. It is an affect that arises from the awareness of inadequacy of our powers to grasp the whole. Respect implies the existence of desires which in conjunction with imagination lay down the foundation for the emergance of the sublime aesthetical judgment. But respect, as a moral feeling, is the outcome of violence committed by reason over sensuality.
Reconciliation The reconciliation of the two powers of thought, that of presenting forms (imagination) and that of conceiving ideas (reason) is the condition of possibility for the feeling of sublimity.
 
REASON
CONTENT =>
<=DISCONTENT
IMAGINATION
I
I
JUDGMENT OF SUBLIME
(2) Insignificance  
  Fear is not the only negative affection generated by the experience of the sublime. Nature could appear as sublime not as exciting fear but by making us regard our human concerns as small. This feeling of insignificance could include not only our external goods but even intrinsic goods like health or life itself.
Combination The feeling of insignificance could arise from the concurrence of the immensity of nature and the insufficiency of our faculties. If the imagination refuses to present the absolutely great there will be no feeling of sublimity. The thought will not be aware that an idea of reason is present. By giving an honest shot at the absolute and by failing to present it the imagination attests that the absolute exists as the unpresentable. One can say that imagination sacrifices nature in order to open the way for law.
Conditions In order to be able to judge something as dynamically sublime we must:
(a) judge an object so that this makes us conscious of our physical helplessness, and
(b) the object judged to be dynamically sublime must reveal the other side of our nature, the moral one, which makes us feel the sublimity of our spiritual destiny.
Delight The idea of the absolute is present as the soul stirring delight, not in sublime judgment itself, but as a feeling felt by thinking. This feeling, which is felt to be absolute, indicates the call of reason. To feel the call of reason to apprehend the whole makes an absolute delight because thought cannot think anything higher that the absolute. Thus the thought of the absolute engenders the excitement that replaces the fear.
Moral Superiority Despite the awareness of our limitations this feeling is not degrading. Only our individuality becomes small - humanity in our person remains unhumiliated. On the contrary, the rational faculty puts the infinity of nature under the standard of unity of everything. Moreover, nature is here sublime in making the human mind feel the sublimity of its own (non natural) destination.
  Thus Nature is might that has no dominion over us - it is "only" dynamically sublime. The power of nature causes fear which is countered by the dominion of the subject who feels strong enough to resist it.
Spiritual Power The content of form is pretty weak in the sublime feeling - this feeling is more powered by the rude magnitude than by a shape defined by aesthetical perception. Obviously, a spiritual faculty overpowers the form supposed to be provided by imagination. The more amorphous something appears the stronger involvement of reason is needed.
Relevance What is the import of Kant's analysis of the sublime? It is twofold. On the one hand (this is stated explicitely by Kant) it shows the propedeutic character of the sublime for the development of moral sense. Kant says that the sublime prepares us to esteem something even contrary to our sensible interest. On the other hand, (this is perhaps an unintentional but not less important consequence) the discussion on the sublime undermines the traditional alliance between art and the beautiful and thus paves the way for the emergence of avantgarde styles that purport to represent the unpresentable: suprematism, abstractionism, minimalism, op-art, conceptual art.
   
MATHEMATICALLY SUBLIME   DYNAMICALLY SUBLIME
QUANTITY   RELATION
QUALITY   MODALITY
Conditions
(1) Awareness that imagination is inasequate (1) Awareness of physical helplesness
(2) Reason provides a standard (2) Reason provides moral superiority



Kant: Since I am still in one piece this must be sublime!

 

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