Talk:Sublime (philosophy)

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Is anyone wrestling with the issue of the phenomenology of the sublime?

The above question from an anonymous user cannot be answered until the interrogator precisely expresses the sense and meaning of the words "phenomenolo-- (talk) 19:37, 18 October 2009 (UTC)

gy" and "sublime." Both of these words have several meanings and are therefore very ambiguous. Any wrestling with issues concerning them cannot begin until only one meaning is agreed upon by the wrestlers.Lestrade 14:52, 30 November 2005 (UTC)Lestrade

Noumenal Realm[edit]

It seems to me that there is no reference to this area of knowledge in Kant's Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime. Where, in his works, does he relate the feeling of the sublime with the so-called Noumenal realm?Lestrade 14:24, 30 November 2005 (UTC)Lestrade

(Later) Looking through the Critique of Judgment, I found no reference to the Noumenal realm in regard to the feeling of the sublime. Where are the relevant passages?Lestrade 19:13, 30 November 2005 (UTC)Lestrade
(Later yet) The feeling of the sublime has to do with relatively large space, time, or causality. These are strictly related to phenomena. Noumena have nothing to do with them.Lestrade 20:27, 30 November 2005 (UTC)Lestrade

The noumenal realm comes up in Kant's discussion of the sublime in the Critique of Judement. Perhaps he doesn't use exactly this phrase; but he does discuss the sublime as access to the 'supersensual' (übersinnliche) realm. This supersensual realm is the realm of Ideas rather than the phenomenal, and can surely be identified with the noumenal. see e.g. SS25: "Nothing, therefore, which can be an object of the senses is to be termed sublime when treated on this footing. But precisely because there is a striving in our imagination towards progress ad infinitum, while reason demands absolute totality, as a real idea, that same inability on the part of our faculty for the estimation of the magnitude of things of the world of sense to attain to this idea, is the awakening of a feeling of a supersensible faculty within us"; SS23: " the sublime, in the strict sense of the word, cannot be contained in any sensuous form, but rather concerns ideas of reason, which, although no adequate presentation of them is possible, may be excited and called into the mind by that very inadequacy itself which does admit of sensuous presentation. Thus the broad ocean agitated by storms cannot be called sublime. Its 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-sublime because the mind has been incited to abandon sensibility and employ itself upon ideas involving higher finality."

Since the original entry of the "noumenal realm" this article was rewritten. The claim that "This supersensual realm is the realm of Ideas rather than the phenomenal, and can surely be identified with the noumenal" may not be a NPOV and should be substantaited through citation. The assertion "surely be identified" is not NPOV.Amerindianarts 12:35, 30 March 2006 (UTC)


The word "sublime" designates more than one concept. For that reason, it is ambiguous and not readily understood. It seems to have been derived from the Latin "sub limis" which could mean "standing in a doorway and looking up at the high lintel." At one time, this article contained much information on the various subsequent meanings. However, on September 24, 2005, user Amerindianarts deleted those passages because they were thought to be original work.

The word has a history that deserves a place in this article. Longinus, Boileau, Baillie, Dennis, Shaftesbury, Addison, Kant, and Schopenhauer had important notions about the sublime that should be included here in the future.Lestrade 16:45, 30 November 2005 (UTC)Lestrade

I wrote the entry which I deleted. It has been republished at as "The Sublime in Eighteenth Century Philosophy". I also deleted the entries I made in the Kant article on the sections of "Rationalism and Empiricism" and Kant's "Ontological Argument". I deleted them because the later entries were challenged as original, so I deleted all my Kant entries across Wikipedia. I am well versed on Kant but don't have time to argue with the fuzzy thinkers who are self-proclaimed Kantian experts (and there are plenty at Wiki). My entries for the Kant article were really common knowledge, even though you won't find much on Kant in regard to "Rationalism and Empiricism". After that I curtailed my intentions to include the Romantic period and subsequent later developments in the sublime (e.g. Max Dessoir). In regard to the noumenal aspect of the sublime in Kant, it is not explicitly stated to my knowledge, but it is there implicitly, i.e. the experience of beauty depends upon seeing natural objects as though they were somehow the artifacts of cosmic reason bent on being intelligible to us, and the experience of the sublime makes use of the natural formlessness and fearfulness to celebrate reason itself. Amerindianarts 20:48, 30 November 2005 (UTC)
The entries on the history of the feeling of the sublime did not seem, to me, to be original research. They had, in my opinion, value in making clear this unclear concept. In reference to the Noumenal realm, I must admit that the "cosmic reason" is totally unintelligible to me.Lestrade 14:20, 1 December 2005 (UTC)Lestrade

The "sublime" and the "Grand Tour" are well documented and reflected in the sources I gave. The original part would probably be the influences of Addison, Shaftesbury, and Dennis on Kant and perhaps the take on Kant's sublime which isn't covered in the sources (explicitly). If you feel I should reinsert it and use Schoepenhauer to begin the Romantic period, let me know and I will do it. As far as "cosmic reason", it is a reference to Kant's distinction between the transcendent and the transcendental and that the feeling of the sublime is an exaltation and not something to be described. Work here would be original, I think. In regard to Boileau and Baillie, I am not familiar with these individuals. Are they philosophers, or artists, or writers??Amerindianarts 14:35, 1 December 2005 (UTC)

Baillie & Boileau[edit]

Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux translated Longinus's treatise On the Sublime. He defined the concept as that which uplifts, ravishes, and transports the reader by being extraordinary, striking, marvelous, and surprising.

John Baillie was a physician in the British military. In 1747 he published An Essay on the Sublime. In it, he defined the sublime entirely in terms of the response of the spectator. This was similar to Kant's description of the subjective effects of the sublime, without regard to external objects. (See "Translator's Introduction," Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, Immanuel Kant, Translated by John T. Goldthwait.)

Speaking of the history of the concept, I found that important contributions were also made by Schiller in his two essays on the sublime. Also, the Encyclopédiste Chevalier de Jaucourt, in the French Encyclopedia of 1765 (see List of contributors to the Encyclopédie), claimed that the sublime was that which raises or elevates the reader or spectator and makes him/her feel the elevation.Lestrade 17:29, 1 December 2005 (UTC)Lestrade

Yes, Schiller was the first to use Kant's aesthetic principles, but the beautiful and the sublime were merged into the absolute in Schelling. After that, Schopenhauer is really the only major figure to treat the sublime as distinct from beauty until Dessoir revitailzed Kant's aesthetics. The twentienth century seems to have been void of the sublime as a concept in philosophy, and was limited to the artists themselves. The eighteenth century seems to have been the hey-day for the sublime.Amerindianarts 21:42, 1 December 2005 (UTC)

I reinserted the chronology for the eighteenth century. I limited my chronology to the development in Kant, only because Kant was the first to treat it systematically in a theory of aesthetics. Have at it. I really don't think the German idealists after Kant added that much, other than to merge the sublime and beauty in the Absolute. I think Dessoir did make a noteworthy contribution in the late nineteenth/twentieth century. Amerindianarts 02:32, 4 December 2005 (UTC)

Flavors of Sublime[edit]

I am thinking it would be very helpful to those interested in the sublime to have a few words on this page that distinguish the Theoretical Sublime (i.e. Kant and Burke, et. al.) from the Egotistical Sublime, which would bear mentioning in the section of the article re. Romantic writers and their conceptions of the Sublime, and the Sublime's use in the arts. Unfortunately, I am not the one to write this, but I would love to see it here. I also believe that philosophers working in aesthetics tend to have very different notions of the sublime than artists who display an interest or use of the sublime in their works and/or essays. Specifically here, I'm thinking of those like, say, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake or Keats' notion of Sublime versus the thinkers mentioned on this page. Perhaps there should be some distinguishing between the theory of the sublime (aesthetics/philosophy) and the sublime in the arts (art history/criticism).

That may be a good idea, but the question would be whether this page should be sectioned, or another article started elsewhere, e.g. sublime (art history/criticisms). There are a lot of other articles that could have this info. The current article is "sublime (philosophy)" and the title suggests that going outside of this discipline would warrant criticisms from philosophers editing these articles.Amerindianarts 18:57, 5 April 2006 (UTC)
The "philosophy" part is just to distinguish it from completely unreleated things, like the band or the physical process. I would feel free to add information from other humanities disciplines and change the title accordingly. I think a unified article would make clearer distinctions between multiple definitions. -- Beland 21:49, 26 May 2006 (UTC)

You are proposing that sublime (philosophy) be deleted and the info merged into an article entitled what? The sublime?Amerindianarts 20:50, 4 June 2006 (UTC)

OK. What you are asking doesn't make any sense at all. The detailed explanations you request would require a considerably lengthy essay, and you want to include this with the other humanities? I do assume that you as well as other readers at least have access to a dictionary. Until you provide a more reasonable plan, these tags are gone. Amerindianarts 21:06, 4 June 2006 (UTC)

Nietzsche's treatment of the Sublime would also merit a mention. Gaberlunzie 09:35, 20 October 2006 (UTC)

Style cleanup[edit]

The article in many places goes on for a long time describing the philosophy of a particular person without attributing anything to them. Instead of writing "X says Y is Z", it says "Y is Z". The end result is that it sounds like the encyclopedia is making pronouncements on the nature of the sublime.

Confusing points[edit]

I think some of the writers mentioned were writing in languages other than English. What words did they actually use to describe "the sublime"?

Prior to the eighteenth century sublime was a rhetoric term predominately relevant to literary criticism.

And what was the meaning of "sublime" to the study of rhetoric?

Burke's concept of the sublime was a stark contrast to the classical notion of aesthetic quality in Plato's Philebus, Ion, and Symposium, and suggested ugliness as an aesthetic quality.

This is very confusing without knowing what is meant by "aesthetic quality". I'm not sure if that is term the encyclopedia is using, or if it comes from the philosophers themselves.

In accordance with his critical method of the first two Critiques, Kant poses the question "How are judgments of taste possible?" In other words, how can we be certain that a judgment concerning aesthetic quality can be known to be universally true?

The article does not say whether or not Kant claimed that aesthetic judgments are universal. If so, that's an interesting and controversial position to defend.

The sublime, on the other hand, was for Kant a feeling of satisfaction celebrating reason itself and our capacity as moral beings. The feeling is experienced when our imagination fails to comprehend the vastness of the infinite and we become aware of the ideas of reason and their representation of the totality of the universe, as well as those powers that operate in the universe which we do not grasp and are beyond our control.

I'm not sure what is meant by "celebrating reason itself". The second sentence seems to say that a sublime feeling, in Kant's view, is an appreciation of one's failure to comprehend the vastness (and other aspects). If it's nothing more complicated than that, then it should probably just say that. I'm also not sure what is meant by "our capacity as moral beings". Is this a reference to our ability to tell right from wrong? If so, how is that related to the feeling you get when you fail to comprehend the vastness of the universe?

The feeling is at once existential in that we realize our own finitude, or smallness,

A definition for "existential" would be very helpful here. There is an article on existentialism which could be linked to. But it is unclear whether an encyclopedia author is labeling this as existential, or if Kant himself thought so, and this should be fixed. Is "finitude" even a word, or shouldn't that be "finiteness"?

but is universal in the realization of our own moral worth as an autonomous being belonging to the fraternity of mankind which shares a moral destiny through its capacity to apply the moral laws of practical reason

Is "fraternity of mankind" a phrase of Kant? If we're paraphrasing, this should be replaced with something gender-neutral like "human species". If we're quoting, this should be in quotes, with a reference. What is the "moral destiny" of humanity? It should be made clear that Wikipedia does not think the human race has a moral destiny; this is an idea of Kant's.

The judgments of the sublime arise from two principles of reason, the mathematical and the dynamic, which are both elements that have a common thread throughout Kant's writings on pure and practical reason.

It would perhaps be useful to give examples or better explain the "mathematical" and "dynamic" principles. It's nice that these are named here, but no one not already familiar with Kant's work is going to know what they mean.

In his discussion of the sublime in the Critique of Judgment, Kant distinguishes between the sensible concept of measuring things by comparison, and an absolute which as a concept of reason defies comparison and is "great beyond every standard of the senses". It is the same concept of reason that Kant refers to in the Critique of Practical Reason as a source of free, uncaused activity, and in the Critique of Pure Reason as the Unconditioned which unifies and completes the conditioned knowledge of the understanding. The sublime is the satisfaction derived from the realization of this concept of reason and its aim at infinite totality.

"This concept of reason" is mentioned only in reference to things that it explains, but the idea itself is never explained. What "concept of reason" is it that generates a "sublime" feeling when you become aware of it? Or is that feeling simply the awe at lack of comprehension of the vastness (etc.) of the universe which was explained earlier?

Towards the end of the eighteenth century other philosophers would utilize Kant's aesthetic theory and his notion of the unconditioned to try and reconcile the knower and the known, re-integrating the sublime and beauty in an Absolute which embodied the idealism that Kant had spent his career intent on refuting.

What is Kant's "notion of the unconditioned"? Why to "the knower" and "the known" need reconciling, i.e. what philosophical problem is at issue here? What does that have to do with the sublime? Where can we learn more about this "Absolute" and who are these later philosophers, anyway?

-- Beland 22:32, 26 May 2006 (UTC)

After rereading the article there do seem to be some valid points in the your critique, but I also think that in writing an article you have to assume that the reader is going to bring a rudimentary knowledge of words and definitions with them. Your call for some explanations are linked to (e.g Unconditioned) and anything more may really not be relevant to the current article. The article's content should remain within the scope of the title "Sublime (philosophy)", meaning that an explanation of Kant's epistemology and ontology is better served elsewhere and here isn't the place for it. Some of these comments seem to indicate that the article was not read with any degree of attention, e.g. "The article does not say whether or not Kant claimed that aesthetic judgments are universal. If so, that's an interesting and controversial position to defend." Later in the article this is explained. Like I said, how much baggage can you assume that the reader is going to bring with them?

I find most of the points made here as fairly mundane and due to a lack of familiarity with the subject matter. If you are an expert and want to have a go at it, then do it. Amerindianarts 23:16, 26 May 2006 (UTC)

After rereading the article I see that most of the points are linked to other parts of Wiki. Many of the definitions that are called for may also lead to a questionable neutral point of view according to Wiki policy. Linking to "existentialism" may also be confusing conceptually, which is why I didn't (somebody's lack of familiarity with the concepts?), but linking to existentialism might be confusing. I think the article alludes by analogy to the deduction of the Aesthetic in the CPR, and that judgments of taste can therefore be implied as a possibility for objectivity. I wrote most of this, and at one time deleted it as original work. It was other's opinion that it should be reinserted. I have no qualms if it is reverted again. None. If I do any further work on this article it will be for the original article I wrote at

I also changed "references" to "bibliography", hoping to distinguish the notion of "further reading" from the actual references used for the article. For the sake of balance, You may want to recruit another expert, or if you are an expert, do it yourself. Amerindianarts 23:41, 26 May 2006 (UTC)

Why is the clean-up icon on this page?? Shouldn't it be placed on the article page? Amerindianarts 13:06, 27 May 2006 (UTC)

Victor Hugo[edit]

Re: Victor Hugo-I don't think the website cited substantiates all the claims made in this edit. The claims need substantiated by a secondary source. The entry may also conflict with the chronological format of the article, and perhaps should be moved below Schopenhauer.Amerindianarts 03:08, 10 August 2006 (UTC)

Agreed. Was Hugo's endorsement of Lipton Green Tea mentioned in that section when you wrote the above? In any case, I've deleted that bit. Unfortunately, I don't have time for a more thorough revision at the moment. (talk) 19:37, 27 May 2009 (UTC)

Note on editing[edit]

Too many edits are being made to this page without proper citation. To refer to a general work and then provide a synopsis paragraph with uncited claims and quotes doesn't work. All too often editors are providing an original source with a secondary source summary without citing the source, or quotes. If you read it, you can cite it. If not properly cited it fails Wiki policy in two ways, (1)unverifiable, and (2)appears as original work, both prohibited at Wiki. Claims unverifed will be marked with {{fact}} resulting in [citation needed]. After a few days, if not corrected, will be removed. Amerindianarts 02:11, 15 August 2006 (UTC)

Natural Degeneration[edit]

The following sentence is included in the lead: "Later writers tend to include the sublime in the beautiful." This describes the normal tendency of things to decay over time, called entropy. Intelligent writers, like Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant, spent much energy and effort describing the distinction between the feelings of the sublime and the beautiful. With careless abandon, later writers come and ignorantly mix them back together, so that future generations will not understand the concepts and will ambiguously use either one arbitrarily.Lestrade 13:40, 6 November 2006 (UTC)Lestrade


Given that Burke's treatise is almost as influential as Kant's, and certainly more influential than Schopenhauer's (based purely on the number of articles written on each in the last 20 years) I think he probably deserves his own section. Currently, the information on Burke is just some references to Greek theorists ideas of the Beautiful. I can start this section off, though I can't provide very much information right now. Perhaps another section on the distinction between the sublime and the beautiful would be merited as well. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Thomascochrane (talkcontribs) 14:16, 23 November 2007 (UTC)


<rant> I would just like to note that the famous Addison line "the alps fill the mind with an agreeable kind of horror" is systematically misquoted in various sources, notably the Dictionary of the History of Ideas which suggests it appears in the Spectator. Elsewhere it is referred to extremely vaguely. After several hours of searching, I finally pinned down this reference to another book (see reference on main page). I put this note here in the hope that no one else will have to suffer the same pain it put me through (I have to do this for a living!). In future, I urge people to check primary sources, or at least reliable secondary sources (with exact page numbers!) for quotations. </rant>

Hegelian problems[edit]

The section on Hegel has two misleading passages. The first misleading passage states that "oriental artists were more inclined towards the aesthetic and the sublime: they could engage god only through 'sublimated' means." Sublimation has nothing to do with the sublime. Sublimation, in this sense, means to make nobler or purer, that is, less naturalistically physical and more abstractly spiritual. The sublime, however, is the experience of fearful pleasure in the presence of immense space, time, or causality. The second misleading passage claims that a spectator experiences an overwhelming aesthetic sense of awe when viewing the disembodiment and formlessness of intricate detail or metrical patterns. Spectacles of awesome detail or geometrical patterns, however, have nothing to do with immensity and are therefore obviously not sublime.Lestrade (talk) 15:28, 13 November 2008 (UTC)Lestrade