4 Nov 2008

Mathematical Sublime (§27)

Corry Shores
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Reason legislates a law requiring us to judge the great things we sense in nature as small in comparison to reason’s ideas (§27 141b). The feeling of displeasure we feel when encountering the absolutely great object causes displeasure, which then arouses the feeling of our supersensible vocation by which “it is purposive and thus a pleasure to find every standard of sensibility inadequate for the ideas of the understanding” (141c).

The mind is moved during sublime experiences, whereas when judging the beautiful it is calm. Kant likens this movement to vibration, that is, “to a rapidly alternating repulsion from and attraction to one and the same object:” the imagination is fearful of the abyss of reality that lies beyond its comprehensive capacities, but also reason’s notion of the supersensible is what causes the imagination to think there can be more. Our ability to conceive it is something lawful, and hence what is attractive to reason is repulsive to the imagination (141-142).

Apprehensions continue arriving in succession; it is a forward movement. But comprehension is regressive; it is a backward movement, hence “it does violence to the inner sense, which must be all the more marked the greater the quantum is which the imagination comprehends in one intuition.” Because comprehension moves backward, it in this sense seems subjectively contrapurposive, because our purpose is to do as much cognizing as possible, and not to halt the flow. However, it is necessary that we perform such interruptive comprehensions, hence in that way it is also purposive. This is another source of violence inflicted on the subject (142c-d).

But this displeasure from counterpurposivity is also what causes the faculty of reason to provide the idea of the absolute whole, and hence this displeasure comes to be seen as purposive (as a means to rational cognition) and hence is converted into pleasure (143c).

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

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