Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Kant Critique of Judgment #23 transition from estimating the beautiful to estimating the sublime

One has to think through the strangeness of Kant's concept of the sublime.  #23 is particularly strange.   The overall structure of #23 is (1) similarities of the beautiful and sublime, (2) differences between the two, for example the beautiful having to do with form and limitation, the sublime with limitlessness and also totality, the beautiful with representation of quality, the sublime with quantity (3) another difference being beauty associated with furtherance of life compatible with charms and playful imagination, wheras the sublime is associated with a momentary check of feelings of life followed by a more powerful discharge, and so not playful or compatible with charms, (4) the most important difference, that beauty seems pre-adapted to our power of judgment whereas the sublime seems ill adapted to the faculty of imagination and presentation, (5) the object of nature is not sublime since the sublime cannot be contained in sensuous form, (6) nature on the analogy of art vs. nature as chaotic and wild which excites the ideas of the sublime, (7) inducing a feeling in our selves of a finality quite independent of nature.   

The strangeness is that #23 could be read as, if not atheistic, at least humanist in a way that would be shocking to traditional Christian thought.  Offhand, one would think that talk of the sublime would lead to thoughts of God.  Clearly, for Kant, thoughts of beauty lead to thoughts of God.  But, at least in #23, not the sublime.  (There are other chapters which seem to go in the other direction.  But here we focus just on #23.)  It just seems strange to any reader today that the sublime would not include objects of nature.  "Thus the broad ocean agitated by storms cannot be called sublime." (Creed translation)  And what is required to make it sublime?  Kant says "Its [the ocean's] aspect is horrible, and one must have stored one's mind in advance with a rich stock of ideas, if such an intuition is to raise it to the pitch of a feeling which is itself sublime."  The feeling is sublime, Kant tells us, because the mind here abandons sensibility and employs "itself upon ideas involving higher finality" which hear seems to refer to "ideas of reason" as mentioned in a previous sentence.   Perhaps what is suggested is that the ocean becomes sublime if we ramp up the feeling with associated ideas that direct us to God, immortality and the soul i.e. ideas of reason.

But then in the next paragraph we learn that natural beauty is associated with a finality in which nature is regarded on the analogy to art (i.e. with God as the artist) and "profound inquiries as to the possibility of such a form."  This is CONTRASTED to the sublime where we move from principles to chaos and wildness and irregular disorder and desolation "provided it gives signs of magnitude and power" (concession to God?).  So this makes the sublime (since not really indicating God in the way that the beautiful does), and giving "no indication of anything final in nature itself" i.e. God-like, makes it "less important and rich in consequences than" beauty. 

But it isn't treated as less important, since we now find that it finds something final "only in the possible employment of our intuitions of it in inducing a feeling in our own selves of a finality quite independent of nature."  That is, it shows us as having our own purposes independent of nature, AND OF ITS AUTHOR.  "For the beautiful in nature we must seek a ground external to ourselves [i.e. God], but for the sublime one merely in ourselves..."  This idea "entirely separates the ideas of the sublime from that of a finality of nature..." which is to say that the sublime has to do with us.  This is a humanist doctrine.  

It should not be forgotten that the analogy to art is emphasized by way of the idea that the principle of the laws of nature "is not to be found within the range of our entire faculty of understanding" and that nature is is not just some "aimless mechanism: but should be regarded as large art so that the notion of nature as mere mechanism is "enlarged to the conception of nature as art" and that this, the beauty of nature, is what leads us to "profound inquiries."  

The concluding sentence is also a puzzle.  The ideas of the sublime are separated from the idea of a "finality of nature" i.e. in the mind of God and this because :it does not give a representation of any particular form in nature."  Rather it involves "no more than the development of a final employment by the imagination of its own representation" which is a pretty mysterious thing to say.  He seems to be saying that the sublime involves developing one's own imagination in representing itself?

Some other thoughts.
1.  The sublime seems to be working contrary to the beautiful, going in the opposite direction.
2.   Is there some connection between Kant's fascination with grotesque furniture and jungle scenes and his interest here in disorder and chaos?
3.  It is interesting that Kant associates the beautiful here with charms and play of imagination, but not the sublime, given that he is so negative about charms elsewhere. 
4.  Isn't it strange that the sublime with is associated with Ideas of Reason is also associated with chaos?  And then also associated not with God the designer but with our own internal capacities of imagination?  Isn't there some incoherence here?


No comments: