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Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime

Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime

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Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime (Beobachtungen über das Gefühl des Schönen und Erhabenen) is a 1764 book by Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher from Königsberg , researching, lecturing and writing on philosophy and anthropology at the end of the 18th Century Enlightenment....


The first complete translation into English was published in 1799. The second was published in 1960 by the University of California Press
University of California Press
University of California Press, also known as UC Press, is a publishing house associated with the University of California that engages in academic publishing. It was founded in 1893 to publish books and papers for the faculty of the University of California, established 25 years earlier in 1868...


Section One

Of the Distinct Objects of the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime

Kant states that feelings of enjoyment are subjective. In this book, he describes his observations. His interest is not in coarse, thoughtless feelings or in the other extreme, the finest feelings of intellectual discovery. Instead, he writes about the finer feelings, which are intermediate. These require some sensitivity, intellectual excellence, talent, or virtue.

There are two kinds of finer feeling: the feeling of the sublime and the feeling of the beautiful. Kant gives examples of these pleasant feelings. Some of his examples of feelings of the beautiful are the sight of flower beds, grazing flocks, and daylight. Feelings of the sublime are the result of seeing mountain peaks, raging storms, and night.

In this section, Kant gives many particular examples of feelings of the beautiful and the sublime. Feelings of the beautiful "occasion a pleasant sensation but one that is joyous and smiling." On the other hand, feelings of the sublime "arouse enjoyment but with horror."

Kant subdivided the sublime into three kinds. The feeling of the terrifying sublime is sometimes accompanied with a certain dread or melancholy. The feeling of the noble sublime is quiet wonder. Feelings of the splendid sublime are pervaded with beauty.

Section Two

Of the Attributes of the Beautiful and Sublime in Man in General

Kant described the relationship between these finer feelings and humanity. The feelings are not totally separate from each other. Beauty and the sublime can be joined or alternated. Kant claimed that tragedy, for the most part, stirs the feeling of the sublime. Comedy arouses feelings for beauty. The personal appearance of humans prompts these feelings in various cases. A person's social position also affects these feelings.

Human nature has many variations of the feelings of the beautiful and the sublime. Some variations of the terrifying sublime are the adventurous and grotesque. Visionaries and cranks are persons who have fantasies and whims. The beautiful, when it degenerates, produces triflers, fops, dandies, chatterers, silliness, bores, and fools.

Sympathy or compassion and also good-natured agreeableness are not true virtues, according to Kant. True virtue is the quality of raising the feeling of humanity's beauty and dignity to a principle. When a person acts in accordance with this principle, regardless of inclination, that person is truly and sublimely virtuous.

"A profound feeling for the beauty and dignity of human nature and a firmness and determination of the mind to refer all one's actions to this as to a universal ground is earnest, and does not at all join with a changeable gaiety nor with the inconstancy of a frivolous person." With this observation, Kant will attempt to fit the various feelings of the beautiful and sublime, and the resulting moral characters, into Galen
Aelius Galenus or Claudius Galenus , better known as Galen of Pergamon , was a prominent Roman physician, surgeon and philosopher...

's rigid arrangement of the four humours or human temperament
In psychology, temperament refers to those aspects of an individual's personality, such as introversion or extroversion, that are often regarded as innate rather than learned...

s: melancholic, sanguine
Sanguine is chalk of a reddish color, often called the true colour of blood. tending to brown, used in drawing, The word also describes any drawing done in sanguine.-Technique:...

, choleric, and phlegmatic.

Kant asserted that the human temperaments or dispositions are fixed and separate characters. An individual who has one frame of mind has no feeling or sense for the finer feelings that occur in a person of another temperament.
  • A person who has a constitution that is melancholic will have a predominating feeling for the sublime. That person may possess genuine virtue based on the principle that humanity has beauty and worth.
  • One who has a sanguine nature will mostly have a feeling for the beautiful. This results in an "adoptive" virtue that rests on goodheartedness. This person's compassion and sympathy depend on the impression of the moment.
  • A choleric human will have a feeling for the splendid or showy sublime. As a result, this person will possess an apparent virtue. Kant calls it "a gloss of virtue." This includes a sense of honor and concern for outward appearance.
  • Phlegmatic people have apathy or lack of any finer feeling. They therefore may have an absence of virtue.

As a whole, human nature in general is a combination of these virtues. As such, it is a splendid expression of beauty and dignity.

Section Three

Of the Distinction of the Beautiful and Sublime in the Interrelations of the Two Sexes

In Section Three, Kant asserts that women predominantly have feelings for all that is beautiful. Men, on the contrary, have mostly feelings for the sublime. Any other feelings that are only for the enhancement of the main feeling. Kant admits, though, that the distinction is not absolute. Since "we are dealing with human beings; we must also remember that they are not all alike."

Kant helps to root notions of inequality in the Western social structure. For example, Kant argues that "a woman is little embarrassed that she does not possess high insights; she is beautiful and captivates, and that is enough ... Laborious learning or painful pondering, even if a woman should greatly succeed in it, destroys the merits that are proper to her sex."

Women's mental ability and understanding, then, refer to the beautiful. Men's deep, noble understanding is not suitable for women. Women have beautiful virtues such as kindness and benevolence. Men's virtue is noble and has to do with principles and duty. Because a woman is concerned with the beautiful, the worst that can be said against her is that she is disgusting. A man's greatest defect, however, would be that he is ridiculous, as this is the opposite of the sublime.

In sexual selection, a woman demands that the man have noble and sublime characteristics. A man wants a woman to possess beautiful qualities. In a marriage, the husband and wife unite their disparate attributes to form, as it were, a single moral person. The man's understanding combines with the wife's taste to constitute a union.

Section Four

Of National Characteristics, so far as They Depend upon the Distinct Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime

Here Kant describes the different ways that various people have finer feelings. He qualifies his remarks by stating, "[W]hether these national differences are contingent and depend upon the times and the type of government, or are bound by a certain necessity to the climate, I do not here inquire."

The Italians
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 have a strong feeling for the beautiful with some mixture of the thoughtful sublime. The French
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 have mostly a feeling for the beautiful, but with the addition of the joyful sublime. The feeling of the German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

s is an almost equal blend of both the beautiful and the splendid sublime in that they are much concerned with outward appearances. The feeling of the noble sublime predominates with the English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

, whose actions are guided by principles rather than impulses. With their cruel autos-da-fé
An auto-da-fé was the ritual of public penance of condemned heretics and apostates that took place when the Spanish Inquisition or the Portuguese Inquisition had decided their punishment, followed by the execution by the civil authorities of the sentences imposed...

 and harsh conquests, the Spaniards have feeling for the terrifying sublime. Dutch
Dutch people
The Dutch people are an ethnic group native to the Netherlands. They share a common culture and speak the Dutch language. Dutch people and their descendants are found in migrant communities worldwide, notably in Suriname, Chile, Brazil, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and the United...

 people in Holland have no finer taste and are concerned only with what is useful. Arab
Arab people, also known as Arabs , are a panethnicity primarily living in the Arab world, which is located in Western Asia and North Africa. They are identified as such on one or more of genealogical, linguistic, or cultural grounds, with tribal affiliations, and intra-tribal relationships playing...

s are like the Spaniards. Persian
Persian people
The Persian people are part of the Iranian peoples who speak the modern Persian language and closely akin Iranian dialects and languages. The origin of the ethnic Iranian/Persian peoples are traced to the Ancient Iranian peoples, who were part of the ancient Indo-Iranians and themselves part of...

s resemble the French. The Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

ese are the Englishmen of the Orient
The Orient means "the East." It is a traditional designation for anything that belongs to the Eastern world or the Far East, in relation to Europe. In English it is a metonym that means various parts of Asia.- Derivation :...

. West India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 displays its love of the grotesque sublime, as also do the Chinese
Han Chinese
Han Chinese are an ethnic group native to China and are the largest single ethnic group in the world.Han Chinese constitute about 92% of the population of the People's Republic of China , 98% of the population of the Republic of China , 78% of the population of Singapore, and about 20% of the...

. Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

n Negro
The word Negro is used in the English-speaking world to refer to a person of black ancestry or appearance, whether of African descent or not...

es possess no finer feelings. North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

n Indians
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...

, however, have a feeling for the sublime in that they are adventurous, honorable, truthful, proud, brave, and valorous.

In antiquity, the ancient Greek
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

s and Romans
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 had remarkable feelings for both the beautiful and the sublime. However, with the Caesars
Caesar (title)
Caesar is a title of imperial character. It derives from the cognomen of Julius Caesar, the Roman dictator...

, this decayed into a love of false glitter. The subsequent barbarian
Barbarian and savage are terms used to refer to a person who is perceived to be uncivilized. The word is often used either in a general reference to a member of a nation or ethnos, typically a tribal society as seen by an urban civilization either viewed as inferior, or admired as a noble savage...

The Goths were an East Germanic tribe of Scandinavian origin whose two branches, the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths, played an important role in the fall of the Roman Empire and the emergence of Medieval Europe....

civilization had an overpowering feeling for the grotesque. Kant claimed that his time witnessed "the sound taste of the beautiful and noble blossoming forth both in the arts and sciences and in respect to morals." He declared that it is necessary to educate the younger generation so that they will have noble simplicity, high morals, and finer feelings.