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Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804)

Contemporaries: Catherine the Great - David Hume - Giovanni Piranesi - Marquis de Sade

Related: enlightenment - modernism - sublime - aesthetics - philosophy - judgment

"Kant reasoned that aesthetic judgements have universal validity. Kant was wrong. Immanuel Kant searched for the basis of aesthetic motivation. For such a difficult journey, Köningsberg [where he was born and died] was not a good place to start. The age of consumerism has no time for Kant. --Stephen Bayley, 1991

Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime (1764) - Immanuel Kant [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

The philosophical concept of the sublime, as described by philosopher Immanuel Kant in the Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, took inspiration in part from attempts to comprehend the enormity of the Lisbon quake and tsunami.


Immanuel Kant (April 22, 1724 - February 12, 1804) was a German philosopher, generally regarded as the last major philosopher of the early modern period and, on anyone's account, one of history's most influential thinkers.

Kant is most famous for his view—called transcendental idealism—that we bring innate forms and concepts to the raw experience of the world, which otherwise would be completely unknowable. Kant's philosophy of nature and human nature is one of the most important historical sources of the modern conceptual relativism that dominated the intellectual life of the 20th century—though it is likely that Kant would reject relativism in most of its more radical modern forms. Kant is also well-known and very influential for his moral philosophy. Kant also proposed the first modern theory of solar system formation, known as the Kant-Laplace hypothesis . --http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immanuel_Kant

Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime (1764) - Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant on the terrifying sublime
In human nature, praiseworth qualities never are found without concurrent variations that must run through endless shadings to the utmost imperfection.

The quality of the terrifying sublime, if it is quite unnatural, is adventurous. Unnatural things, so far as the sublime is supposed in them, although little or none at all may actually be found, are grotesque.

Whoever loves and believes the fantastic is a visionary; the inclination toward whims makes the crank.

On the other side, if the noble is completely lacking the feeling of the beautiful degenerates, and one calls it trifling. A male person of this quality, if he is young, is named a fop; if he is of middle age he is a dandy.

Since the sublime is the most necessary to the elderly, an old dandy is the most contemptible creature in nature, just as a young crank is the most offensive and intolerable. --" (Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, trans Goldthwait, 1960, p. 55)

"Monasteries and such tombs, to confine the living saints are grotesque. Subduing one's passions through principles is sublime.

Castigation, vows, and other such monks' virtues are grotesque. Holy bones, holy wood, and all similar rubbish, the holy stool of the High Lama of Tibet not excluded, are grotesque.

Of the works of wit and fine feeling, the epic poems of Vergil and Klopstock fall into the noble, of Homer and Milton into the adventurous.

The Metamorphoses of Ovid are grotesque; the fairy tales of French foolishness [fabliau?] are the most miserbale grotesqueries ever hatched.

Anacreontic poems are generally very close to the trifling" (Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, trans Goldthwait, 1960, pp. 56-57).

--http://easyweb.easynet.co.uk/~ian.mccormick/biblio.htm [Sept 2005]

See also: 1760s - Immanuel Kant - sublime

see also: sublime - aesthetics - beauty - gothic novel - monstrous - sensibility

Hume and Kant

Among the score or more of Enlightenment thinkers most significant to what is now philosophy of art, pride of place must go to David Hume (1711-1776) and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). Their complex proposals for bringing the various arts under a comprehensive doctrine are an important source of concepts, issues and arguments that underlie debates in our own century. Both are motivated by the question of whether our highly subjective and even irrational responses to artworks and other beautiful objects can have any sort of objectivity. --http://www.mnstate.edu/gracyk/courses/phil%20of%20art/hume_and_kant.htm [May 2004]


At least since Kant's (1790), taste has been considered the ability to appreciate universal beauty. This beauty is a harmony that is detatched from all personal interest. Kant's universal aesthetic seems inconsistent with the vast diversity of different cultures. Inspired by this diversity, Franz Boas put forth his principle of cultural relativism in 1896. Evaluating aesthetics according to cultural relativism, each culture has its own aesthetic, and beauty exists only relative to each culture's aesthetic. --Webb Phillips

Kant and Sade: The Ideal Couple

Of all the couples in the history of modern thought (Freud and Lacan, Marx and Lenin…), Kant and Sade is perhaps the most problematic: the statement "Kant is Sade" is the "infinite judgement" of modern ethics, positing the sign of equation between the two radical opposites, i.e. asserting that the sublime disinterested ethical attitude is somehow identical to, or overlaps with, the unrestrained indulgence in pleasurable violence. A lot-everything, perhaps-is at stake here: is there a line from Kantian formalist ethics to the cold-blooded Auschwitz killing machine? Are concentration camps and killing as a neutral business the inherent outcome of the enlightened insistence on the autonomy of Reason? Is there at least a legitimate lineage from Sade to Fascist torturing, as is implied by Pasolini's film version of Saló, which transposes it into the dark days of Mussolini's Salo republic? Lacan developed this link first in his Seminar on The Ethics of Psychoanalysis (1958-59)1, and then in the Écrits "Kant with Sade" of 1963. -- Slavoj Zizek http://www.egs.edu/faculty/zizek/zizek-kant-and-sade-the-ideal-couple.html [Sept 2004]


  1. Critique of Judgement (1790) Immanuel Kant [Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    In the Critique of Judgment, Kant claims that taste consists in the exercise of reflective judgment. This claim has seemed puzzling to many commentators, given that reflective judgment appears to consist in the capacity for engaging in systematic natural science. --http://cognation.mit.edu/~webb/aesthetics/

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