3 Nov 2008

Kant’s Judgments of Beauty vs. Judgments of Sublime

by Corry Shores
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Judgments of beauty concern the form of the object, and because form is a matter of the object’s delimitations, judgments of beauty are concerned with limitation. Judgments of the sublime, however, are made in regard to something formless. As being a matter of form, judgments of beauty concern quality; and as being a matter of limitlessness, judgments of sublime concern quantity (§23 128c).

The feeling of pleasure differs for both judgments. The beautiful directly provides a feeling of the promotion of life, resulting partly from the free play of the imagination. The sublime induces pleasure only indirectly, and it results after a “feeling of a momentary inhibition of the vital powers and the immediately following and all the more powerful outpouring of them; hence as an emotion it seems to be not play but something serious in the activity of the imagination. Hence it is also incompatible with charms, and, since the mind is not merely attracted by the object, but is also always reciprocally repelled by it, the satisfaction in the sublime does not so much contain positive pleasure as it does admiration or respects, i.e., it deserves to be called negative pleasure” (§23 128-129).

The most import and difference between the two types of judgments is that beauty is comprehendible and seems predetermined to be in accord with our powers of judgment, and hence is purposive, whereas the sublime is contrapurposive to our power of judgment, because we cannot comprehend it; hence it does “violence to our imagination, but is nevertheless judged all the more sublime for that” (129b).

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of the Power of Judgment. Transls. & Eds. Paul Guyer & Eric Matthews. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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