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Essay about The Beautiful in Kant's Third Critique and Aristotle's Poetics

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The Beautiful in Kant's Third Critique and Aristotle's Poetics


ABSTRACT: I argue that Kant's analysis of the experience of the beautiful in the third Critique entails an implicit or potential experience of the sublime, that is, the sublime as he himself describes it. Finding the sublime in the beautiful is what I call philosophical beauty. I then consider some aspects of Aristotle's analysis of tragedy in the Poetics, specifically his identification of the key elements of tragedy as those involving the experience of fear and pity, which leads to a catharsis of these emotions. Aristotle is famously unclear about what happens in this process of catharsis. I use the notion of philosophical beauty derived from Kant to suggest a possible explanation.

There is beauty and there is beauty. The two are not mutually exclusive, but rather represent two poles on a continuum. At one pole is the beauty that is associated with a sense of lightness and balanced order. It has a faintly decorative quality to it. At the other extreme is the much darker form of beauty that we associate with profundity and truth. This latter form of beauty I will analyze in terms of the containment of the sublime. The distinction between these two extremes of beauty has less to do with the objects under consideration, whether a flower, a sunset, a poem, a painting, or a piece of music, than it does with the attitude of the considerer of the object. That is, anything that possesses beauty of the first kind can also be viewed as possessing beauty of the second kind, if the attention of the viewer is directed appropriately. The differential across the continuum is constituted by the degree of awareness of the element of the sublime in the beautiful.

This secon...


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... cognitive faculty according to the analogy of purpose. Thus we can regard natural beauty as the presentation of the concept of the formal (merely subjective) purposiveness, and natural purpose as the presentation of the concept of a real (objective) purposiveness." Ibid., pp. 29-30.

(15) The whole passage reads, "In this way nature is not judged to be sublime in our aesthetical judgments in so far as it excites fear, but because it calls up that power in us (which is not nature) of regarding as small the things about which we are solicitous (goods, health, and life), and of regarding its might (to which we are no doubt subjected in respect of these things) as nevertheless without any dominion over us and our personality to which we must bow where our highest fundamental propositions, and their assertion or abandonment, are concerned." Kant, p. 101.

(16) Ibid.


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