The majority of the first part of Kant's 'Critique of Judgement' is concerned with the beautiful and it is not even until the second book that Kant discusses and attempts to differentiate another basic type of aesthetic experience, the sublime. The beautiful and the sublime are very similar in many ways in that they both please on their own account, they are reflective judgements, and they both seem to please universally. Kant points out that there are several key differences between the two, however, and states three major distinctions in particular. First off, the beautiful is concerned with a particular form of an object where as the sublime's sense of limitlessness is often formless. Secondly, while the beautiful is often associated with a certain playfulness and charm the sublime, on the other hand, is a "momentary check to the vital forces" and is, therefore, far from playful and is instead "dead earnest." Finally, Kant says that the most important distinction between the beautiful and the sublime is that beauty "conveys a finality in its form making the object appear" where as the sublime seems to be "contra-final." Kant defines pleasure as a feeling obtained from achieving an end or from fulfilling a purpose. Beauty achieves this finality and pleasure but because of the sublime's limitlessness the faculties of the imagination and reason cannot comprehend and, therefore, this finality is never achieved yet somehow the sublime produces a sensation of pleasure. Because of this contradiction, the sublime seems to cause serious problems for Kant's philosophy. Unlike the beautiful which requires "restful contemplation," the sublime must be divided into the two categories of the mathematically and the dynamically sublime. An art history teacher of mine often compared the sublime to a rollercoaster ride. We ride a rollercoaster to obtain an unusual pleasurable sensation that we are out of control even though, paradoxically, we feel safe (in control) at the same time.


Thomas Cummins art philosophy