The Critique of Judgement, by Immanuel Kant

General Remark Upon the Exposition of the Aesthetical Reflective Judgement

In reference to the feeling of pleasure an object is to be classified as either pleasant, or beautiful, or sublime, or good (absolutely), (jucundum, pulchrum, sublime, honestum).

The pleasant, as motive of desire, is always of one and the same kind, no matter whence it comes and however specifically different the representation (of sense, and sensation objectively considered) may be. Hence in judging its influence on the mind, account is taken only of the number of its charms (simultaneous and successive), and so only of the mass, as it were, of the pleasant sensation; and this can be made intelligible only by quantity. It has no reference to culture, but belongs to mere enjoyment. — On the other hand, the beautiful requires the representation of a certain quality of the Object, that can be made intelligible and reduced to concepts (although it is not so reduced in an aesthetical judgement); and it cultivates us, in that it teaches us to attend to the purposiveness in the feeling of pleasure. — The sublime consists merely in the relation by which the sensible in the representation of nature is judged available for a possible supersensible use. — The absolutely good, subjectively judged according to the feeling that it inspires (the Object of the moral feeling), as capable of determining the powers of the subject through the representation of an absolutely compelling law, is specially distinguished by the modality of a necessity that rests a priori upon concepts. This necessity involves not merely a claim, but a command for the assent of every one, and belongs in itself to the pure intellectual, rather than to the aesthetical Judgement; and is by a determinant and not a mere reflective judgement ascribed not to Nature but to Freedom. But the determinability of the subject by means of this Idea, and especially of a subject that can feel hindrances in sensibility, and at the same time its superiority to them by their subjugation involving a modification of its state — i.e. the moral feeling — is yet so far cognate to the aesthetical Judgement and its formal conditions that it can serve to represent the conformity to law of action from duty as aesthetical, i.e. as sublime or even as beautiful, without losing its purity. This would not be so, if we were to put it in natural combination with the feeling of the pleasant.

If we take the result of the foregoing exposition of the two kinds of aesthetical judgements, there arise therefrom the following short explanations:

The Beautiful is what pleases in the mere judgement (and therefore not by the medium of sensation in accordance with a concept of the Understanding). It follows at once from this that it must please apart from all interest.

The Sublime is what pleases immediately through its opposition to the interest of sense.

Both, as explanations of aesthetical universally valid judging, are referred to subjective grounds; in the one case to grounds of sensibility, in favour of the contemplative Understanding; in the other case in opposition to sensibility, but on behalf of the purposes of practical Reason. Both, however, united in the same subject, are purposive in reference to the moral feeling. The Beautiful prepares us to love disinterestedly something, even nature itself; the Sublime prepares us to esteem something highly even in opposition to our own (sensible) interest.

We may describe the Sublime thus: it is an object (of nature) the representation of which determines the mind to think the unattainability of nature regarded as a presentation of Ideas.

Literally taken and logically considered, Ideas cannot be presented. But if we extend our empirical representative faculty (mathematically or dynamically) to the intuition of nature, Reason inevitably intervenes, as the faculty expressing the independence of absolute totality,1 and generates the effort of the mind, vain though it be, to make the representation of the senses adequate to this. This effort — and the feeling of the unattainability of the Idea by means of the Imagination — is itself a presentation of the subjective purposiveness of our mind in the employment of the Imagination for its supersensible destination; and forces us, subjectively, to think nature itself in its totality as a presentation of something supersensible, without being able objectively to arrive at this presentation.

For we soon see that nature in space and time entirely lacks the unconditioned, and, consequently, that absolute magnitude, which yet is desired by the most ordinary Reason. It is by this that we are reminded that we only have to do with nature as phenomenon, and that it must be regarded as the mere presentation of a nature in itself (of which Reason has the Idea). But this Idea of the supersensible, which we can no further determine — so that we cannot know but only think nature as its presentation — is awakened in us by means of an object, whose aesthetical appreciation strains the Imagination to its utmost bounds, whether of extension (mathematical) or of its might over the mind (dynamical). And this judgement is based upon a feeling of the mind’s destination, which entirely surpasses the realm of the former (i.e. upon the moral feeling), in respect of which the representation of the object is judged as subjectively purposive.

In fact, a feeling for the Sublime in nature cannot well be thought without combining therewith a mental disposition which is akin to the Moral. And although the immediate pleasure in the Beautiful of nature likewise presupposes and cultivates a certain liberality in our mental attitude, i.e. a satisfaction independent of mere sensible enjoyment, yet freedom is thus represented as in play rather than in that law-directed occupation which is the genuine characteristic of human morality, in which Reason must exercise dominion over Sensibility. But in aesthetical judgements upon the Sublime this dominion is represented as exercised by the Imagination, regarded as an instrument of Reason.

The satisfaction in the Sublime of nature is then only negative (whilst that in the Beautiful is positive); viz. a feeling that the Imagination is depriving itself of its freedom, while it is purposively determined according to a different law from that of its empirical employment. It thus acquires an extension and a might greater than it sacrifices — the ground of which, however, is concealed from itself; whilst yet it feels the sacrifice or the deprivation and, at the same time, the cause to which it is subjected. Astonishment, that borders upon terror, the dread and the holy awe which seizes the observer at the sight of mountain peaks rearing themselves to heaven, deep chasms and streams raging therein, deep-shadowed solitudes that dispose one to melancholy meditations — this, in the safety in which we know ourselves to be, is not actual fear, but only an attempt to feel fear by the aid of the Imagination; that we may feel the might of this faculty in combining with the mind’s repose the mental movement thereby excited, and being thus superior to internal nature — and therefore to external — so far as this can have any influence on our feeling of well-being. For the Imagination by the laws of Association makes our state of contentment dependent on physical [causes]; but it also, by the principles of the Schematism of the Judgement (being so far, therefore, ranked under freedom), is the instrument of Reason and its Ideas, and, as such, has might to maintain our independence of natural influences, to regard as small what in reference to them is great, and so to place the absolutely great only in the proper destination of the subject. The raising of this reflection of the aesthetical Judgement so as to be adequate to Reason (though without a definite concept of Reason) represents the object as subjectively purposive, even by the objective want of accordance between the Imagination in its greatest extension and the Reason (as the faculty of Ideas).

We must here, generally, attend to what has been already noted, that in the Transcendental Aesthetic of Judgement we must speak solely of pure aesthetical judgements; consequently our examples are not to be taken from such beautiful or sublime objects of Nature as presuppose the concept of a purpose. For, if so, the purposiveness would be either teleological, or would be based on mere sensations of an object (gratification or grief); and thus would be in the former case not aesthetical, in the latter not merely formal. If then we call the sight of the starry heaven sublime, we must not place at the basis of our judgement concepts of worlds inhabited by rational beings, and regard the bright points, with which we see the space above us filled, as their suns moving in circles purposively fixed with reference to them; but we must regard it, just as we see it, as a distant, all-embracing vault. Only under such a representation can we range that sublimity which a pure aesthetical judgement ascribes to this object. And in the same way, if we are to call the sight of the ocean sublime, we must not think of it as we [ordinarily] do, endowed as we are with all kinds of knowledge (not contained, however, in the immediate intuition). For example, we sometimes think of the ocean as a vast kingdom of aquatic creatures; or as the great source of those vapours that fill the air with clouds for the benefit of the land; or again as an element which, though dividing continents from each other, yet promotes the greatest communication between them: but these furnish merely teleological judgements. To call the ocean sublime we must regard it as poets do, merely by what strikes the eye; if it is at rest, as a clear mirror of water only bounded by the heaven; if it is restless, as an abyss threatening to overwhelm everything. The like is to be said of the Sublime and Beautiful in the human figure. We must not regard as the determining grounds of our judgement the concepts of the purposes which all our limbs serve, and we must not allow this coincidence to influence our aesthetical judgement (for then it would no longer be pure); although it is certainly a necessary condition of aesthetical satisfaction that there should be no conflict between them. Aesthetical purposiveness is the conformity to law of the Judgement in its freedom. The satisfaction in the object depends on the relation in which we wish to place the Imagination; always provided that it by itself entertains the mind in free occupation. If, on the other hand, the judgement be determined by anything else — whether sensation or concept — although it may be conformable to law, it cannot be the act of a free Judgement.

If then we speak of intellectual beauty or sublimity, these expressions are, first, not quite accurate, because beauty and sublimity are aesthetical modes of representation, which would not be found in us at all if we were pure intelligences (or even regarded ourselves as such in thought). Secondly, although both, as objects of an intellectual (moral) satisfaction, are so far compatible with aesthetical satisfaction that they rest upon no interest, yet they are difficult to unite with it, because they are meant to produce an interest. This, if its presentation is to harmonise with the satisfaction in the aesthetical judgement, could only arise by means of a sensible interest that we combine with it in the presentation; and thus damage would be done to the intellectual purposiveness, and it would lose its purity.

The object of a pure and unconditioned intellectual satisfaction is the Moral Law in that might which it exercises in us over all mental motives that precede it. This might only makes itself aesthetically known to us through sacrifices (which causing a feeling of deprivation, though on behalf of internal freedom, in return discloses in us an unfathomable depth of this supersensible faculty, with consequences extending beyond our ken); thus the satisfaction on the aesthetical side (in relation to sensibility) is negative, i.e. against this interest, but regarded from the intellectual side it is positive and combined with an interest. Hence it follows that the intellectual, in itself purposive, (moral) good, aesthetically judged, must be represented as sublime rather than beautiful, so that it rather awakens the feeling of respect (which disdains charm) than that of love and familiar inclination; for human nature does not attach itself to this good spontaneously, but only by the authority which Reason exercises over Sensibility. Conversely also, that which we call sublime in nature, whether external or internal (e.g. certain affections), is only represented as a might in the mind to overcome [certain]1 hindrances of the Sensibility by means of moral fundamental propositions, and only thus does it interest.

I will dwell a moment on this latter point. The Idea of the Good conjoined with affection is called enthusiasm. This state of mind seems to be sublime, to the extent that we commonly assert that nothing great could be done without it. Now every affection2 is blind, either in the choice of its purpose, or, if this be supplied by Reason, in its accomplishment; for it is a mental movement which makes it impossible to exercise a free deliberation about fundamental propositions so as to determine ourselves thereby. It can therefore in no way deserve the approval of the Reason. Nevertheless, aesthetically, enthusiasm is sublime, because it is a tension of forces produced by Ideas, which give an impulse to the mind, that operates far more powerfully and lastingly than the impulse arising from sensible representations. But (which seems strange) the absence of affection (apatheia, phlegma in significatu bono) in a mind that vigorously follows its unalterable principles is sublime, and in a far preferable way, because it has also on its side the satisfaction of pure Reason.1 It is only a mental state of this kind that is called noble; and this expression is subsequently applied to things, e.g. a building, a garment, literary style, bodily presence, etc., when these do not so much arouse astonishment (the affection produced by the representation of novelty exceeding our expectations), as admiration (astonishment that does not cease when the novelty disappears); and this is the case when Ideas agree in their presentation undesignedly and artlessly with the aesthetical satisfaction.

Every affection of the strenuous kind (viz. that excites the consciousness of our power to overcome every obstacle — animi strenui) is aesthetically sublime, e.g. wrath, even despair (i.e. the despair of indignation, not of faintheartedness). But affections of the languid kind (which make the very effort of resistance an object of pain — animum languidum) have nothing noble in themselves, but they may be reckoned under the sensuously beautiful. Emotions, which may rise to the strength of affections, are very different. We have both spirited and tender emotions. The latter, if they rise to the height of affections, are worthless; the propensity to them is called sentimentality. A sympathetic grief that will not admit of consolation, or one referring to imaginary evils to which we deliberately surrender ourselves — being deceived by fancy — as if they were actual, indicates and produces a tender,2 though weak, soul — which shows a beautiful side and which can be called fanciful, though not enthusiastic. Romances, lacrymose plays, shallow moral precepts, which toy with (falsely) so-called moral dispositions, but in fact make the heart languid, insensible to the severe precept of duty, and incapable of all respect for the worth of humanity in our own person, and for the rights of men (a very different thing from their happiness), and in general incapable of all steady principle; even a religious discourse,1 which recommends a cringing, abject seeking of favour and ingratiation of ourselves, which proposes the abandonment of all confidence in our own faculties in opposition to the evil within us, instead of a sturdy resolution to endeavour to overcome our inclinations by means of those powers which with all our frailty yet remain to us; that false humility which sets the only way of pleasing the Supreme Being in self-depreciation, in whining hypocritical repentance and in a mere passive state of mind — these are not compatible with any frame of mind that can be counted beautiful, still less with one which is to be counted sublime.

But even stormy movements of mind which may be connected under the name of edification with Ideas of religion, or — as merely belonging to culture — with Ideas containing a social interest, can in no way, however they strain the Imagination, lay claim to the honour of being sublime presentations, unless they leave after them a mental mood which, although only indirectly, has influence upon the mind’s consciousness of its strength, and its resolution in reference to that which involves pure intellectual purposiveness (the supersensible). For otherwise all these emotions belong only to motion, which one would fain enjoy for the sake of health. The pleasant exhaustion, consequent upon such disturbance produced by the play of the affections, is an enjoyment of our well-being arising from the restored equilibrium of the various vital forces. This in the end amounts to the same thing as that state which Eastern voluptuaries find so delightful, when they get their bodies as it were kneaded and all their muscles and joints softly pressed and bent; only that in this case the motive principle is for the most part external, in the other case it is altogether internal. Many a man believes himself to be edified by a sermon, when indeed there is no edification at all (no system of good maxims); or to be improved by a tragedy, when he is only glad at his ennui being happily dispelled. So the Sublime must always have reference to the disposition, i.e. to the maxims which furnish to the intellectual [part] and to the Ideas of Reason a superiority over sensibility.

We need not fear that the feeling of the sublime will lose by so abstract a mode of presentation — which is quite negative in respect of what is sensible — for the Imagination, although it finds nothing beyond the sensible to which it can attach itself, yet feels itself unbounded by this removal of its limitations; and thus that very abstraction is a presentation of the Infinite, which can be nothing but a mere negative presentation, but which yet expands the soul. Perhaps there is no sublimer passage in the Jewish Law than the command, Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of anything which is in heaven or on the earth or under the earth, etc. This command alone can explain the enthusiasm that the Jewish people in their moral period felt for their religion, when they compared themselves with other peoples; or explain the pride which Mahommedanism inspires. The same is true of the moral law and of the tendency to morality in us. It is quite erroneous to fear that if we deprive this [tendency] of all that can recommend it to sense it will only involve a cold lifeless assent and no moving force or emotion. It is quite the other way, for where the senses see nothing more before them, and the unmistakable and indelible Idea of morality remains, it would be rather necessary to moderate the impetus of an unbounded Imagination, to prevent it from rising to enthusiasm, than through fear of the powerlessness of these Ideas to seek aid for them in images and childish ritual. Thus governments have willingly allowed religion to be abundantly provided with the latter accessories; and seeking thereby to relieve their subjects of trouble, they have also sought to deprive them of the faculty of extending their spiritual powers beyond the limits that are arbitrarily assigned to them, and by means of which they can be the more easily treated as mere passive1 beings.

This pure, elevating, merely negative presentation of morality brings with it, on the other hand, no danger of fanaticism, which is a delusion that we can will ourselves to see something beyond all bounds of sensibility, i.e. to dream in accordance with fundamental propositions (or to go mad with Reason); and this is so just because this presentation is merely negative. For the inscrutableness of the Idea of Freedom quite cuts it off from any positive presentation; but the moral law is in itself sufficiently and originally determinant in us, so that it does not permit us to cast a glance at any ground of determination external to itself. If enthusiasm is comparable to madness, fanaticism is comparable to monomania; of which the latter is least of all compatible with the sublime, because in its detail it is ridiculous. In enthusiasm, regarded as an affection, the Imagination is without bridle; in fanaticism, regarded as an inveterate, brooding passion, it is without rule. The first is a transitory accident which sometimes befalls the soundest Understanding; the second is a disease which unsettles it.

Simplicity (purposiveness without art) is as it were the style of Nature in the sublime, and so also of Morality which is a second (supersensible) nature; of which we only know the laws without being able to reach by intuition that supersensible faculty in ourselves which contains the ground of the legislation.

Now the satisfaction in the Beautiful, like that in the Sublime, is not alone distinguishable from other aesthetical judgements by its universal communicability, but also because, through this very property, it acquires an interest in reference to society (in which this communication is possible). We must, however, remark that separation from all society is regarded as sublime, if it rests upon Ideas that overlook all sensible interest. To be sufficient for oneself, and consequently to have no need of society, without at the same time being unsociable, i.e. without flying from it, is something bordering on the sublime; as is any dispensing with wants. On the other hand, to fly from men from misanthropy, because we bear ill-will to them, or from anthropophoby (shyness), because we fear them as foes, is partly hateful, partly contemptible. There is indeed a misanthropy (very improperly so-called), the tendency to which frequently appears with old age in many right-thinking men; which is philanthropic enough as far as goodwill to men is concerned, but which through long and sad experience is far removed from satisfaction with men. Evidence of this is afforded by the propensity to solitude, the fantastic wish for a secluded country seat, or (in the case of young persons) by the dream of the happiness of passing one’s life with a little family upon some island unknown to the rest of the world; a dream of which story-tellers or writers of Robinsonades know how to make good use. Falsehood, ingratitude, injustice, the childishness of the purposes regarded by ourselves as important and great, in the pursuit of which men inflict upon each other all imaginable evils, are so contradictory to the Idea of what men might be if they would, and conflict so with our lively wish to see them better, that, in order that we may not hate them (since we cannot love them), the renunciation of all social joys seems but a small sacrifice. This sadness — not the sadness (of which sympathy is the cause) for the evils which fate brings upon others — but for those things which men do to one another (which depends upon an antipathy in fundamental propositions), is sublime, because it rests upon Ideas, whilst the former can only count as beautiful. — The brilliant and thorough Saussure,1 in his account of his Alpine travels, says of one of the Savoy mountains, called Bonhomme, “There reigns there a certain insipid sadness.” He therefore recognised an interesting sadness, that the sight of a solitude might inspire, to which men might wish to transport themselves that they might neither hear nor experience any more of the world; which, however, would not be quite so inhospitable that it would offer only an extremely painful retreat. — I make this remark solely with the design of indicating again that even depression (not dejected sadness) may be counted among the sturdy affections, if it has its ground in moral Ideas. But if it is grounded on sympathy and, as such, is amiable, it belongs merely to the languid affections. [I make this remark] to call attention to the state of mind which is sublime only in the first case.

We can now compare the above Transcendental Exposition of aesthetical judgements with the Physiological worked out by Burke and by many clear-headed men among us, in order to see whither a merely empirical exposition of the Sublime and Beautiful leads. Burke, who deserves to be regarded as the most important author who adopts this mode of treatment, infers by this method “that the feeling of the Sublime rests on the impulse towards self-preservation and on fear, i.e. on a pain, which not going so far as actually to derange the parts of the body, produces movements which, since they purify the finer or grosser vessels of dangerous or troublesome stoppages, are capable of exciting pleasant sensations; not indeed pleasure, but a kind of satisfying horror, a certain tranquillity tinged with terror.”1 The Beautiful, which he founded on love (which he wishes to keep quite separate from desire), he reduces to “the relaxing, slackening, and enervating of the fibres of the body, and a consequent weakening, languor, and exhaustion, a fainting, dissolving, and melting away for enjoyment.”1 And he confirms this explanation not only by cases in which the Imagination in combination with the Understanding can excite in us the feeling of the Beautiful or of the Sublime, but by cases in which it is combined with sensation. — As psychological observations, these analyses of the phenomena of our mind are exceedingly beautiful, and afford rich material for the favourite investigations of empirical anthropology. It is also not to be denied that all representations in us, whether, objectively viewed, they are merely sensible or are quite intellectual, may yet subjectively be united to gratification or grief, however imperceptible either may be; because they all affect the feeling of life, and none of them, so far as it is a modification of the subject, can be indifferent. And so, as Epicurus maintained, all gratification or grief may ultimately be corporeal, whether it arises from the representations of the Imagination or the Understanding; because life without a feeling of bodily organs would be merely a consciousness of existence, without any feeling of well-being or the reverse, i.e. of the furthering or the checking of the vital powers. For the mind is by itself alone life (the principle of life), and hindrances or furtherances must be sought outside it and yet in the man, consequently in union with his body.

If, however, we place the satisfaction in the object altogether in the fact that it gratifies us by charm or emotion, we must not assume that any other man agrees with the aesthetical judgement which we pass; for as to these each one rightly consults his own individual sensibility. But in that case all censorship of taste would disappear, except indeed the example afforded by the accidental agreement of others in their judgements were regarded as commanding our assent; and this principle we should probably resist, and should appeal to the natural right of subjecting the judgement, which rests on the immediate feeling of our own well-being, to our own sense and not to that of any other man.

If then the judgement of taste is not to be valid merely egoistically, but according to its inner nature — i.e. on account of itself and not on account of the examples that others give of their taste — to be necessarily valid pluralistically, if we regard it as a judgement which may exact the adhesion of every one; then there must lie at its basis some a priori principle (whether objective or subjective) to which we can never attain by seeking out the empirical laws of mental changes. For these only enable us to know how we judge, but do not prescribe to us how we ought to judge. They do not supply an unconditioned command,1 such as judgements of taste presuppose, inasmuch as they require that the satisfaction be immediately connected with the representation. Thus the empirical exposition of aesthetical judgements may be a beginning of a collection of materials for a higher investigation; but a transcendental discussion of this faculty is also possible, and is an essential part of the Critique of Taste. For if it had not a priori principles, it could not possibly pass sentence on the judgements of others, and it could not approve or blame them with any appearance of right.

The remaining part of the Analytic of the Aesthetical Judgement contains first the

1 [Als Vermögen der Independenz der absoluten Totalität, a curious phrase.]

1 [Second Edition.]

2 Affections are specifically different from passions. The former are related merely to feeling; the latter belong to the faculty of desire, and are inclinations which render difficult or impossible all determination of the [elective] will by principles. The former are stormy and unpremeditated; the latter are steady and deliberate; thus indignation in the form of wrath is an affection, but in the form of hatred (revenge) is a passion. The latter can never and in no reference be called sublime; because while in an affection the freedom of the mind is hindered, in a passion it is abolished. [Cf. Preface to the Metaphysical Elements of Ethics, § xvi., where this distinction is more fully drawn out. Affection is described as hasty; and passion is defined as the sensible appetite grown into a permanent inclination.]

1 [In the Preface to the Metaphysical Elements of Ethics, § xvii., Kant gives the term moral apathy to that freedom from the sway of the affections, which is distinguished from indifference to them.]

2 [Reading weiche with Rosenkranz and Windelband; Hartenstein and Kirchmann have weise, which yields no sense.]

1 [Cf. p. 129 supra.]

1 [Kirchmann has positiv; but this is probably a mere misprint.]

1 [L.c. vol. ii. p. 181.]

1 [See Burke, On the Sublime and Beautiful, Part IV., Sect. vii. “If the pain and terror are so modified as not to be actually noxious; if the pain is not carried to violence, and the terror is not conversant about the present destruction of the person, as these emotions clear the parts, whether fine or gross, of a dangerous and troublesome incumbrance, they are capable of producing delight; not pleasure, but a sort of delightful horror, a sort of tranquillity tinged with terror; which, as it belongs to self-preservation, is one of the strongest of all the passions.” Kant quotes from the German version published at Riga in 1773. This was a free translation made from Burke’s fifth edition.]

1 [See Burke, l.c., Part IV., Sect. xix. “Beauty acts by relaxing the solids of the whole system. There are all the appearances of such a relaxation; and a relaxation somewhat below the natural tone seems to me to be the cause of all positive pleasure. Who is a stranger to that manner of expression so common in all times and in all countries, of being softened, relaxed, enervated, dissolved, melted away by pleasure?”]

1 [Reading Gebot; Kirchmann has Gesetz.]

Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:48