The Critique of Aesthetic Judgement: Part One of the Critique of Judgement

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Author: Immanuel Kant  | Date: 1790

SS 29. Modality of the judgement on the sublime in nature

Beautiful nature contains countless things as to which we at once take every one as in their judgement concurring with our own, and as to which we may further expect this concurrence without facts finding us far astray. But in respect of our judgement upon the sublime in nature, we cannot so easily vouch for ready acceptance by others. For a far higher degree of culture, not merely of the aesthetic judgement, but also of the faculties of cognition which lie at its basis, seems to be requisite to enable us to lay down a judgement upon this high distinction of natural objects.

The proper mental mood for a feeling of the sublime postulates the mind’s susceptibility for ideas, since it is precisely in the failure of nature to attain to these- and consequently only under presupposition of this susceptibility and of the straining of the imagination to use nature as a schema for ideas- that there is something forbidding to sensibility, but which, for all that, has an attraction for us, arising from the fact of its being a dominion which reason exercises over sensibility with a view to extending it to the requirements of its own realm (the practical) and letting it look out beyond itself into the infinite, which for it is an abyss. In fact, without the development of moral ideas, that which, thanks to preparatory culture, we call sublime, merely strikes the untutored man as terrifying. He will see in the evidences which the ravages of nature give of her dominion, and in the vast scale of her might, compared with which his own is diminished to insignificance, only the misery, peril, and distress that would compass the man who was thrown to its mercy. So the simple-minded, and, for the most part, intelligent, Savoyard peasant, (as Herr von Sassure relates), unhesitatingly called all lovers of snow-mountains fools. And who can tell whether he would have been so wide of the mark, if that student of nature had taken the risk of the dangers to which he exposed himself merely, as most travellers do, for a fad, or so as some day to be able to give a thrilling account of his adventures? But the mind of Sassure was bent on the instruction of mankind, and soul-stirring sensations that excellent man indeed had, and the reader of his travels got them thrown into the bargain.

But the fact that culture is requisite for the judgement upon the sublime in nature (more than for that upon the beautiful) does not involve its being an original product of culture and something introduced in a more or less conventional way into society. Rather is it in human nature that its foundations are laid, and, in fact, in that which, at once with common understanding, we may expect every one to possess and may require of him, namely, a native capacity for the feeling for (practical) ideas, i.e., for moral feeling.

This, now, is the foundation of the necessity of that agreement between other men’s judgements upon the sublime and our own, which we make our own imply. For just as we taunt a man who is quite inappreciative when forming an estimate of an object of nature in which we see beauty, with want of taste, so we say of a man who remains unaffected in the presence of what we consider sublime, that he has no feeling. But we demand both taste and feeling of every man, and, granted some degree of culture, we give him credit for both. Still, we do so with this difference: that, in the, case of the former, since judgement there refers the imagination merely to the understanding, as a the faculty of concepts, we make the requirement as a matter of course, whereas in the case of the latter, since here the judgement refers the imagination to reason, as a faculty of ideas, we do so only under a subjective presupposition (which, however, we believe we are warranted in making), namely, that of the moral feeling in man. And, on this assumption, we attribute necessity to the latter aesthetic judgement also.

In this modality of aesthetic judgements, namely, their assumed necessity, lies what is for the Critique of Judgement a moment of capital importance. For this is exactly what makes an a priori principle apparent in their case, and lifts them out of the sphere of empirical psychology, in which otherwise they would remain buried amid the feelings of gratification and pain (only with the senseless epithet of finer feeling), so as to place them, and, thanks to them, to place the faculty of judgement itself, in the class of judgements of which the basis of an a priori principle is the distinguishing feature, and, thus distinguished, to introduce them into transcendental philosophy.

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Chicago: Immanuel Kant, "Ss 29. Modality of the Judgement on the Sublime in Nature," The Critique of Aesthetic Judgement: Part One of the Critique of Judgement, trans. James Creed Meredith in Library of the Future ® 4th Edition Ver. 5.0 (Irvine, CA: World Library, Inc., 1996), Original Sources, accessed April 20, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DLTEV8JXEUW94DZ.

MLA: Kant, Immanuel. "Ss 29. Modality of the Judgement on the Sublime in Nature." The Critique of Aesthetic Judgement: Part One of the Critique of Judgement, translted by James Creed Meredith, in Library of the Future ® 4th Edition Ver. 5.0, Irvine, CA, World Library, Inc., 1996, Original Sources. 20 Apr. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DLTEV8JXEUW94DZ.

Harvard: Kant, I, 'Ss 29. Modality of the Judgement on the Sublime in Nature' in The Critique of Aesthetic Judgement: Part One of the Critique of Judgement, trans. . cited in 1996, Library of the Future ® 4th Edition Ver. 5.0, World Library, Inc., Irvine, CA. Original Sources, retrieved 20 April 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DLTEV8JXEUW94DZ.