Beautiful and Sublime

Marta Shcherbakova English 240 April 28, 2010 Beautiful and Sublime The most two conflicting philosophical versions of the relationship between beautiful and sublime in aesthetic, and touchstone for almost all later philosophical works dealing with the subject, lay in the theories of two legendary philosophers of 18th century, Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant. Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful shows a distinction between what is beautiful (
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  Marta Shcherbakova English 240 April 28, 2010 Beautiful and SublimeThe most two conflicting philosophical versions of the relationship between beautiful andsublime in aesthetic, and touchstone for almost all later philosophical works dealing with thesubject, lay in the theories of two legendary philosophers of 18 th century, Edmund Burke andImmanuel Kant. Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and  Beautiful shows a distinction between what is beautiful (and pleasant) and the sublime,concluding that an experience that might be considered terrible may instead inspire a peculiarsense of pleasure, a delight derived from terror. After about thirty years, Kant in his famous Critique of Judgment  thoroughly   analyzes the connection between beautiful and sublime bycomparing and contrasting these terms but highlights the difference between them by applyingthe sublime aesthetic to the nature only. In this paper I will compare Burke’s and Kant’s theories about beautiful and sublime, in order to show that there is no standard viewpoint on defining thebeautiful and the sublime.The eighteenth century was an active period for investigation of the beauty and thesublimity. In 1757 Edmund Burke, British “ political theorist and statesmen” , published one of his famous works Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and  Beautiful. He was the first philosopher to argue that the sublime and the beautiful are mutuallyexclusive. The difference is a contradictory to the same degree as light and darkness. Beauty maybe emphasized by light, but either intense light or darkness is sublime to the degree that it caneliminate the sight of an object. Burke's concept of the sublime is an antithetical contrast to theclassical notion of the aesthetic quality of beauty as the pleasurable experience. He suggestsugliness as an aesthetic quality in its capacity to instill feelings of intense emotion, ultimatelycreating a pleasurable experience. According to Burke’s theory, in order to understand these twoterms, people have to analyze their causal structures. For instance, the formal cause of beauty isthe passion of love; the material cause concerns aspects of certain objects such as smallness,  Marta Shcherbakova English 240 April 28, 2010 smoothness, delicacy, etc. As Burke states, beauty cannot be understood by the traditional basesof beauty: proportion, fitness, or perfection. The sublime also has a causal structure that is unlikethat of beauty. Its formal cause is thus the passion of fear; the material cause is an equal aspect of certain objects such as vastness, infinity, magnificence, etc. In other words, Burke's sublime isachieved through a type of indirect or derived terror, in which one experiences pleasure in theface of pain or terror.Burke concentrates on the point at which sublime is understandable through people’s senses of feelings and imagination. He assumes that all our knowledge comes by way of senseexperience, combing simple impressions into more complex ones. Burke directly connectsi magination to people’s senses of feelings, saying that by representing at pleasure the images of  things in the order and manner in which they were received by the senses and by combiningthose images in a new manner, and according to a different order. Therefore, according toBurke, the imagination cannot create anything new ; it can only reorder and combine basicsense perceptions. So, according to Burke, in order to understand the srcin of our ideas of thesublime and beautiful, we must examine the experience of pain and pleasure, that in turn can be examine by all human’s senses of feelings.   In 1790, Kant finished his critical enterprise with the Critique of Judgment.   “To this day, however, the third of these three Critiques has remained the darke st of Kant’s published worksand the most inaccessible to the philosophical reader.” 1 In this book, Kant follows theeighteenth-century convention of grouping together the notions of the beautiful and the sublime.He regards them as constituting jointly the aesthetic aspect of nature and essential qualities of fine art. When Kant starts to talk about “beautiful,” he sounds very familiar to Burke by sayingthat “If we wish to decide whether something is beautiful or not, we do not use understanding to 1   Guyer, Paul. “Taste, sublimity, and genius: The aesthetics of nature and art.” The Cambridge Companionto Kant. Cambridge University Press, 1992 (367-394)    Marta Shcherbakova English 240 April 28, 2010 refer the  presentation to the object so as to give rise to cognition; rather, we use imagination…” (Norton Anthology, 505) But then, he describes beauty as an object's form or purposivenessinsofar as it is perceived in the object without the presentation of a purpose , meaning thatbeauty is a property of the object, serving as a purpose to the object, but not as an answer to theneed or interest of the person beholding the object. Therefore, beauty is not a thing that happensto us, it is a thing that belongs to the object that is beautiful. When Kant tries to define “beautiful,” he also mentions the taste. We argue that some object is beautiful - we express our taste, and support it with evidences, hence, we make a judgment. According to Kant, having taste is not like having an extra sense, nor like exercising aspecial intellectual power. It is ability to respond with immediate pleasure and crystal vision tothe beauty in the world that around us. Even Kant lived during the time when people followed touniform rules and were too afraid of their authorities to express themselves in any ways, heunderstood that the taste is an individual concept, and everyone sees things how he or she wantsit to be seen. I n today’s society everyone will agree that defining beauty is out of the capability of anyone, due to individuality of every persona and high comprehension of beauty in their ownreality.At the beginning of the Analytic of the Sublime, Kant both compares and contrasts theexperience of sublimity with that of the beautiful. While he compares them, he finds enough toargue for the inclusion of the judgment on the sublime together with the judgment on thebeautiful. These two terms both are estimated in judgments of reflection and not cognized indeterminant judgments; the gratification in both rests on correspondence of imagination with “faculty of concepts that belongs to understanding or reason.” While Kant contrasts beautiful and sublime, he claims that “The beautiful in nature concerns the form of the object, whichconsists in the object’s b eing bounded. But the sublime can also be found in a formless object,insofar as we present unboundedness, ether as in the object or because the object prompts us to  Marta Shcherbakova English 240 April 28, 2010  present it, while yet we add to this unboundedness the thought of its totality.” (Norton Anthology, 520) Using more simple language, the beautiful can be related to art or some sensoryexperience; sublime cannot be related to an experience, rather it refers to humans’ responses toeverything that is too overwhelming to comprehend. For example p yramids, from Kant’s perspective would see as a sublime because of its greatness, its “power,” and also because of thefact that people’s just imagination fails to comprehend it.  From my perspective, both philosophers, Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant made veryinteresting points , but Kant did more thorough analysis. When he discussed the term “beautiful,” he mentioned that there are no rules to which we can appeal to spell out when a thing ought to be judged beautiful. And I totally agree with him. The same concept can be applied to the sublime. Ithink it is very important that Kant also mentioned taste because in today’s society people have their own tastes, concepts, and ideas on perceiving the world. Some people might perceive thesublime as something powerful with terror and some might see it just from the point of greatness.Some people can consider art as a sublime, because it is a unique creation, and some as a  beautiful, because there is nothing overwhelming, it’s just a work of a particular person. Afterthe reading of the Critique of Judgment  , and few parts of   A Philosophical Enquiry into theOrigins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, I just one more time concluded that there isno standard viewpoint on defining the beautiful and the sublime.  Works Cited Leitch, Vincent B. “Immanuel Kant. Critique of Judgment.” The Norton Anthology of Theoryand Criticism. W.W. Norton & Company, 2001 (499-535) Leitch, Vincent B. “Edmund Burke.” A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of  the Sublime and Beautiful.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. W.W. Norton & Company,2001 (536-551)
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