Announcement: Your votes are in! The January 2019 Philosophy Book of the Month is The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World by David Eagleman and Anthony Brandt.

what is beauty?

Use this forum to have philosophical discussions about aesthetics and art. What is art? What is beauty? What makes art good? You can also use this forum to discuss philosophy in the arts, namely to discuss the philosophical points in any particular movie, TV show, book or story.
User avatar
Weight
Posts: 31
Joined: October 25th, 2011, 4:23 am

what is beauty?

Post by Weight » September 7th, 2018, 3:23 pm

Certainly not all beauty is subjective. Opposite sexes have evolutionary biases towards going after each other and it is ingrained in peoples and animals biology. Another type of objective beauty would be art that reflects a part of reality that people would find mesmerizing and natural (Mountains, sunrise, waterfalls, space). Not all beauty is objective though, seeing your child speak his first word or seeing someone happy who you care about can be beautiful to you but not somebody else. So beauty has both objective quality's and subjective quality's.
Definition for beauty: a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight.
I do not think that is quite a good enough definition for beauty though. If I had to define beauty I would say something more along these lines: Something that leaves reverence, awe or admiration to a person. Quality's of beauty are determined by the individual and past experiences but can be shared person to person and are not always subjective.
What do you think beauty is?

User avatar
Present awareness
Posts: 1285
Joined: February 3rd, 2014, 7:02 pm

Re: what is beauty?

Post by Present awareness » September 7th, 2018, 11:50 pm

Beauty IS that which you find beautiful. It has nothing to do with consensus or whether anyone else agrees, for it is an inner feeling of awe or appreciation for some object.
Even though you can see me, I might not be here.

User avatar
Burning ghost
Posts: 2879
Joined: February 27th, 2016, 3:10 am

Re: what is beauty?

Post by Burning ghost » September 8th, 2018, 12:54 am

Generally speaking beauty is harmony, proportion and such. Certain qualities of what is beautiful can and have been analysed. This is why musical instruments work well together and helps us understand how the eye is drawn to certain compotitions by way of focal points.

Often enough there is a sense of beauty in science and mathematics when a formula falls neatly into place.

Beauty, it seems to me, is about complementing to form harmony. In this respect it explains the obvious subjective nature of beauty too. What compliments one person’s aesthetic sensibility causes discord in another’s. To see beauty in as much as we can in life is a goal I often remind myself to strive for - meaning to look at a smudge on a pane of glass and reach toward the hidden beauty within that image.
AKA badgerjelly

User avatar
LuckyR
Moderator
Posts: 3148
Joined: January 18th, 2015, 1:16 am

Re: what is beauty?

Post by LuckyR » September 11th, 2018, 2:40 am

Present awareness wrote:
September 7th, 2018, 11:50 pm
Beauty IS that which you find beautiful. It has nothing to do with consensus or whether anyone else agrees, for it is an inner feeling of awe or appreciation for some object.
While true, everyone knows subjective opinion is highly influenced by the perception of outside opinions.
"As usual... it depends."

User avatar
Hereandnow
Posts: 2065
Joined: July 11th, 2012, 9:16 pm
Favorite Philosopher: the moon and the stars

Re: what is beauty?

Post by Hereandnow » September 11th, 2018, 6:39 pm

Weight
Something that leaves reverence, awe or admiration to a person. Quality's of beauty are determined by the individual and past experiences but can be shared person to person and are not always subjective.
I like this, but a question like this is best taken up in a comparison with the familiar. beauty has, after all, in art, a very strange history, and the best I have come across is that beauty lies with form, a certain kind of form that has aesthetic rapture, to use Clive Bell's term. This kind of rapture is only to be explained in the occasions of it presence. I experience it in music, especially; Clive Bell was a visual arts kind of guy. It is an emotion, but emotions are various. I like Van Gogh because looking at much of his rural depictions/expressions (keeping in mind he is considered the father of expressionism) shows a profound sense of beauty of the natural world, and I am surely a fan of this. I wonder if it is, as you say, past experience that determines it, though one cannot deny that one has to have experience in the world to relate in any way to it. Once experience is brought to this extraordinary encounter, there is something within that responds. (The past is only the catalyst, one might say.)

Anyway, this reverence and awe, i would posit, is indicative of something "other" than what objective interpretation can afford. Sometimes aesthetic experiences are far beyond what is normal. Can drive one insane, thinking of Van Gogh; indeed, it could be further put that to truly understand the depth of beauty, one need go a little crazy.

Dachshund
Posts: 512
Joined: October 11th, 2017, 5:30 pm

Re: what is beauty?

Post by Dachshund » October 6th, 2018, 3:48 am

I agree that the contemplation of that which truly possesses great beauty first evokes a sense of stunned astonishment or awe, and that this initial affection of "shocked wonder" is then naturally followed by a feeling/s of reverence/respect/humility. But reverence for WHAT, HAN? THAT is the question. For me, this intuitive (pre-conceptual/pre-scientific) perceptual consciousness of reverence, has the quality of an emotion. And I believe it is - strictly speaking - an ineffable emotion that automatically manifests itself in mind as a consequence of one's having been directly , (physically) exposed to concrete evidence of the existence of a higher (supernatural/"immaterial") divine order of being.

Regards

Dachshund

User avatar
Hereandnow
Posts: 2065
Joined: July 11th, 2012, 9:16 pm
Favorite Philosopher: the moon and the stars

Re: what is beauty?

Post by Hereandnow » October 6th, 2018, 10:14 am

I actually agree with this, Dashchund, though it puts one out on a limb in a philosophy forum to say this. This is why I like Kierkegaard.
Before we even begin to talk about divinity, we have be very careful that we are not simply mimicking something we have heard and taking it to actuality as a proper understanding. One must escape traditional ontologies altogether. Even the word 'god' is demeaning and anachronistic (empty dialectical spinning of wheels, Kant called it). There is only one way to achieve true "scientific" integrity, and that is through phenomenology. For me, this leads to Rorty's conclusion that we are already at the point, and have been for a long while, where philosophy has exhausted its purpose and it is time to take the intellectual complexity to task int he real world. Rorty, of course, thinks very little has come of it, but everyone is different, and I suspect he just didn't have the kind of, if you will, Wordsworthian experiences I had and continue to have all the time. To me a walk down a country lane is deeply profound. Listening to Debussy's Children's Corner or Loreena Mckinnet transfigures the world.
Evidence? everyone is different. I could argue all day and not rearrange a single dogmatic hair on the head of a personality set against it. When I first read Wordsworth's Tintern Abby or Emerson's Nature I nearly dropped the texts on the floor. These were MY experiences, long before I even knew what poetry was.

Dachshund
Posts: 512
Joined: October 11th, 2017, 5:30 pm

Re: what is beauty?

Post by Dachshund » October 6th, 2018, 11:48 am

HAN,

One of the most eloquent and compelling expositions of what we are discussing ( and could there, I ask you, possibly be a more supremely important and fascinating topic of debate ??!!) was written by the medieval aesthetic theologian "Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite" in the 12th century. Tomorrow ( I am to tired right now) I will post you a prescient extract from his major treatise on the relationship between beauty as we (human beings) experience it in varying degrees of intensity in different worldly phenomena and its source in the absolute, eternal , unchanging, pure light of divine (supernatural) Beauty that the beautiful natural and man-made phenomena we perceive contain to greater or lessor extents. Pseudo-Dionysius believed that this divine light of eternal, absolute/ideal Beauty was the Light of God ( the Biblical God) but I urge you NOT to let this prejudice your reading of what he has to say in the transcribed passages of his (aesthetic) "theory of beauty" that I will send you. Rather, judge for yourself whether or not what he has to say about beauty "rings true".

Regards

Dachshund

User avatar
Burning ghost
Posts: 2879
Joined: February 27th, 2016, 3:10 am

Re: what is beauty?

Post by Burning ghost » October 7th, 2018, 3:14 am

Time to throw some of Schiller’s thoughts into the fray!
We have seen how the beautiful emerges from the reciprocity of two contrary impulses, and from the connection of two contrary principles; and whose supreme ideal is thus to be found in the most perfected bond and equilibrium of reality and form. This equilibrium can, however, remain only an idea that reality can never quite achieve. In reality, kne element will always outweigh the other; and the most that we can expect from experience is a fluctuation between both principles, in which now reality, now form is preponderant. Beauty as an idea is therefore eternally an indivisible unity, because there can be only one single equilibrium; by constrast, beauty in experience will always be dual, because fluctuation can dusturb the equilibrium, now to one side, the the other.

- opening of Seventh Letter from “On the Aesthetic Education of Man”, by Friedrich Schiller
AKA badgerjelly

Dachshund
Posts: 512
Joined: October 11th, 2017, 5:30 pm

Re: what is beauty?

Post by Dachshund » October 8th, 2018, 4:26 am

Hereandnow wrote:
October 6th, 2018, 10:14 am
I actually agree with this, Dashchund, though it puts one out on a limb in a philosophy forum to say this.



Who cares, HAN? ! I put it to you, that all you ( or any skeptical philosopher who is not afflicted with some kind of morid psychiatric disorder ) need to do to personally and indubitably confirm the existence of God (i.e. the existence of ONE transcendent, immaterial, eternal, infinite, perfectly good/truthful/beautiful, necessary, unconditionally absolute Being) is this: (1) drive out into the countryside late one clear winter's evening, drive out as far as you need to go until there is urban light pollution in sight (2) Now find an isolated place that is perfectly quiet and still and free of any kind of distractions (3) Then gaze up into the starry night sky and simply keep focussed on staying "in the moment". As you do this you will experience of a distinctive state of consciousness, a most singular FEELING that you are clearly aware of - that you can definitely perceive the presence of God. To explain. John Calvin the great post-reformation Protestant theologian believed that we human beings all a sixth sense which he called the sensus divinitatis. The "sensus divinitatis" when it is working properly, enables us to literally sense the presence of God. Certain circumstances trigger the "sensus divinitatis" and its deliverances more readily and powerfully, (such as the scenario I have just described wherein one mindfully contemplates the magnificent boundlessness of a starry night sky from a vantage point in an isolated rural setting, late on a clear and quiet evening.

I felt it recently when my wife an I visited St Alban's Cathedral in Hertfordshire ( which is the largest and also one of the oldest Norman Cathedrals in England - dates back to 1077). In this Cathedral there is a famous artwork in stained glass called "The Rose Window". "The Rose Window" is - trust me - a breathtakingly, astonishingly/astoundingly beautiful piece of art ( no sane man could deny it !) and as I gazed up into it's lights ,I can assure you that I felt Calvin's "sensus divinitatis" "loud and clear" ( and in case you are wondering, NO, I had NOT touched a drop of alcohol before arriving at the Cathedral ! :D )

Finally and briefly, If you like 18/19th century Romantic poetry, you might find reading and then quietly reflecting upon material like Shelley's "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" or "Epipsychideon" -or even one of his shorter pieces like "To a Skylark"- is a good way to activate Calvin's "sensus", esp, if you do this late at night, somewhere very still and peaceful.

KIndest Regards

Dachshund

Dachshund
Posts: 512
Joined: October 11th, 2017, 5:30 pm

Re: what is beauty?

Post by Dachshund » October 8th, 2018, 4:33 am

NB: HAN, if you google up "St Alban's Cathedral Rose window" you should be able to find a picture of it that will give you some idea , albeit vague, of what the real thing looks like.

Regards

D

User avatar
Hereandnow
Posts: 2065
Joined: July 11th, 2012, 9:16 pm
Favorite Philosopher: the moon and the stars

Re: what is beauty?

Post by Hereandnow » October 8th, 2018, 10:27 am

BG
Beauty as an idea is therefore eternally an indivisible unity, because there can be only one single equilibrium; by constrast, beauty in experience will always be dual, because fluctuation can dusturb the equilibrium, now to one side, the the other.
I did take the time to read through the fist seven letters of Schiller, and I see what he is about. He is a Kantian through and through (and his platonism is just blatant when he talks about the state and the ideal man), which means he thinks our rational nature must make peace with our corporeal world and therein, in this rational compromise with the senses, art is produced by putting form, the form understood and appreciated by a rational mind, into substance.
There is some merit in this, given that in music it is not until sound is "formalized" into tonality that musical aesthetic appears (notwithstanding atonal music, which is both agonizing and fascinating); and all that a painting or illustration can present is combinations of line, color, texture, all of which can be aptly subsumed under the heading of "form". One could further expand on this notion of formalism to include all we do. What is fine cooking if not taking the "chaos" of spices and edible things and balancing the combination evenly, proportionately. These latter are the hallmarks of reason's formalizing synthetic powers. Hence, the art of cooking. And the art of driving, of sitting in a chair, playing sports, and so on: all these can be explained in terms of the rationalizing a particular dimension of worldly media. Dewey, you might say was a kind of formalist by this thinking, since it is the Form of pragmatic experiences that produces an aesthetic affect (the 'a' is intentional). What is poetry if the an imposition of language's forms, it grammar, its conceptualizing,a nd so on? What is government if not a rationalization of society's affairs?
So I get the point but one should see the problem with this: The meaning of the experience is not reducible its formal aspects; that is, while form may be present in all we do and say, this does not at all mean the form acting on the physical medium actually produces aesthetic, in fact, there is no intrinsic relation between form and aesthetic as the former possesses nothing of the latter.
Maybe form does elicit aesthetic rapture, to borrow a phrase. But the matter of aesthetics and beauty goes much deeper than this; after all, the "good" of the beauty (and the bad of ugliness?) are not observable phenomena. Yet we "observe" them unmistakably. Very, very odd business.

User avatar
Hereandnow
Posts: 2065
Joined: July 11th, 2012, 9:16 pm
Favorite Philosopher: the moon and the stars

Re: what is beauty?

Post by Hereandnow » October 8th, 2018, 11:48 am

Dashchund:
(1) drive out into the countryside late one clear winter's evening, drive out as far as you need to go until there is urban light pollution in sight (2) Now find an isolated place that is perfectly quiet and still and free of any kind of distractions (3) Then gaze up into the starry night sky and simply keep focussed on staying "in the moment". As you do this you will experience of a distinctive state of consciousness, a most singular FEELING that you are clearly aware of - that you can definitely perceive the presence of God. To explain. John Calvin the great post-reformation Protestant theologian believed that we human beings all a sixth sense which he called the sensus divinitatis. The "sensus divinitatis" when it is working properly, enables us to literally sense the presence of God. Certain circumstances trigger the "sensus divinitatis" and its deliverances more readily and powerfully, (such as the scenario I have just described wherein one mindfully contemplates the magnificent boundlessness of a starry night sky from a vantage point in an isolated rural setting, late on a clear and quiet evening.
This is a timeless testimony. Here is Emerson:
Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, Note I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration.I am glad to the brink of fear. Note In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough Definition, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. Note In the woods, is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, -- no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) Note which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, Note -- my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, -- all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. Note The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental: to be brothers, to be acquaintances, -- master or servant, is then a trifle and a disturbance. I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty.In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate Note than in streets or villages. In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature.

There are countless others. I could write my own. It is extravagant talk, and rightly so, but it leaves the inquirer with nothing but questions, after all, all of this is belongs to loose thinking, and because of this it fails to advance the experience objectively. The history of serious human thinking about religion is long and often absurd. The hard part is to give credence, that is, justification, to these interpretative challenges. Emerson and the like can take a person, if so inclined, into the rabbit hole, but two questions remain: how deep can you go, and what, exactly, IS this rabbit hole and how can I clarify this to my discriminating understanding and not just start believing dogmatically in a lot of nonsense? Feelings of the holy, the divine presence, God's grace, redemption, are not self interpreting, for interpretation is always in language and language bearing agencies like us inevitably pervert the discussion.
My take on this is, yes, I am a "transparent eyeball" and feel "the presence of God" but what does this mean? The answer is that it is not reducible to anything else IN language, so the saying requires one to put language aside. But let's look at the nature of such a thing and perhaps we can get closer to explaining the actual event, and in the explaining we become more deeply engaged because it is the tacit explanatory world of interpretation that we are always in that works to inhibit making progress. THIS is where philosophy steps in. My thinking is that philosophy has one purpose, and that is liberation through inquiry. Philosophy is about basic questions and assumptions, the ones that are always already there and fill the perceiving mind with presuppositions that give form and meaning to the world ANTECEDENT TO the perception. This is called dogma, or, what Kierkegaard calls dogma, and i agree. Ask a thousand times what a tree is, read Kant, and a dozen other ontologists and antiontologists, then you will reroute your answer, reconfigure the concepts, and come out looking at trees and everything else very differently. And the intimations of immortality you had at the outset can become transcendental enlightenment, for what stands between an actual person and apprehension of actuality is a firmly entrenched familiarity, a reified familiarity, which is, what Heidegger thought, as I read him, human beings "are". He was mistaken, I think. Emerson was right, as was Dionysius the Areopagite and others; it's just that they couldn't say why they were right. This is what philosophy, or jnana yoga, is for.

User avatar
Burning ghost
Posts: 2879
Joined: February 27th, 2016, 3:10 am

Re: what is beauty?

Post by Burning ghost » October 8th, 2018, 12:20 pm

It’s worth looking at what “aesthetics” means in German too perhaps?
AKA badgerjelly

Dachshund
Posts: 512
Joined: October 11th, 2017, 5:30 pm

Re: what is beauty?

Post by Dachshund » October 15th, 2018, 10:34 am

Burning ghost wrote:
October 8th, 2018, 12:20 pm
It’s worth looking at what “aesthetics” means in German too perhaps?
Yes, very worthwhile, I think.

The philosophical discipline of "Aesthetics" was created - strictly speaking - in 1735 by the German thinker, Alexander Baumgarten who introduced it in a scholarly thesis he had authored as "episteme aisthetike"

which can be translated as the "science of sensible knowledge" or "the science of what is sensed and imagined."

For Baumgarten, the term "taste" ( as we still use it today in the context of assessments of artistic merit/value) meant the ability to judge according to the senses, instead of according to the intellect (i.e. the mental processes of reason/logic), based on feelings (i.e. bodily/visceral sensations) of pleasure or displeasure.

Baumgarten defined the goal of the new philosophical discipline ( "science") he had founded as follows...

"The aim of aesthetics is the perfection of sensible cognition as such, that is, beauty, while its imperfection as such, that is ugliness, is to be avoided."

In Britain during the 18th century, aesthetics ( as a field on enquiry in philosophy) was expanded to include a renewed focus on the study of an ancient aesthetic concept known as "the sublime" in addition to the concept of "beauty". The origin of the sublime as an aesthetic concept dates back to the work of Pseudo - Longinus in the 1St century AD, but there was an enthusiastic revival of interest in the concept among 18th century British philosophers such as:The Earl of Shaftsbury, Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, Thomas Reid, Joseph Addison and Alexander Gerard. The most detailed and influential philosophical account of the aesthetic sublime published during this time was that provided in 1756 by Edmund Burke in his seminal (and widely read) essay, "A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful".Fourteen editions of "The Enquiry" were ultimately published and the imprint of Burke's conception of the sublime in this piece is clearly notable in the works of Kant, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, ( all the more remarkable when one notes that Burke was only 19 years old when he wrote the essay).

Before proceeding to make the points I wish to make in this post, I will try to clarify as best I can, what was meant by the concept of "the sublime" as a concept in 18th century, Anglophone aesthetics, placing particular emphasis on how it was defined by its most original and compelling intellectual exponent, Edmund Burke. For those who might tend to think that Burke's account of the sublime, - because it dates back to the mid-1700s -, is likely to be of little relevance to the field of aesthetics today in the 21st century, I must point out that this is not the case at. In fact, the term "sublime", as it is currently used by contemporary, mainstream philosophers of art, still refers to the same essential aesthetic properties that Burke set down in "The Enquiry" in 1756.

The foremost quality of that which was said to be aesthetically sublime was greatness, and, in particular, a greatness of the kind which was regarded as being so staggeringly monumental that it was - for all reasonable intents and purposes - beyond any possibility of calculation, measurement or imitation. Let me use some classic, traditional examples of the aesthetic sublime in the natural world to illustrate its meaning The sublime in nature refers to those "epic" things in the natural world that we observe to be tremendously, incomprehensibly vast, in terms of their extraordinary great (physical) size or power, like, for example, gazing into a starry night sky and contemplating the boundless immensity of the Universe in terms of its spatial extent or temporal duration; standing on a beach on the East Coast of Australia at the water's edge and looking out upon the Pacific Ocean - pondering the inconceivable enormity of its full extent, witnessing the astonishingly great quantity of physical power that manifests itself in a natural phenomenon like the Niagara Falls and so on.

Burke , in his seminal essay on the aesthetic sublime asserted that the ruling principle of the sublime was terror. What he meant by this is that
It would indeed be absolutely terrifying to find oneself directly and immediately threatened by something sublime in nature, for example, to be cut adrift in a frail, tiny boat somewhere in the middle of the effectively "limitless", unimaginably extensive and massive Pacific Ocean, or to be hopelessly lost somewhere in the midst of the limitlessly stretching sands of the Sahara desert would be terrifying. Equally, to find oneself aboard a crude wooden raft that was that was about to go over the edge of the mighty Niagara Falls, or to be fatally trapped in the path of an oncoming 90 metre tidal wave (tsunami) would also be extraordinary terrifying experiences. These predicaments are terrifying because they are situations where one's life is immediately and directly threatened by the overwhelming physical magnitude and/or power of sublime phenomena in the natural world. Having said this, it is extremely important to point out that when Burke says the "ruling principle" of the sublime, he is NOT thereby identifying/equating the sublime with terror. He does NOT mean that the sublime - as an aesthetic concept - is equivalent to the emotion of terror. When that which is sublime does actually terrify and immediately threaten us ( as in the examples I have just sketched above of predicaments/circumstances where sublime natural phenomena would strike terror into our hearts by actually posing a direct and immediate threat to our lives), we would take away no aesthetic assessment from the experience at all, because sheer terror would simply overwhelms our capacity for judgement. When, however, we view sublime objects/phenomena from a safe vantage point, i.e; at a safe distance, or, more generally speaking, under any such conditions that prevent them from actually becoming an immediate ( and thereby genuinely terrifying) threat to our existence, they are, in fact, very often positively "delightful".. Thus, Burke observes in "The Enquiry":


"...at certain distances and with certain modifications, they -(i.e. the encounters we experience with that which is sublime, for example, with the sublime natural objects/phenomena I have mentioned above like the Pacific Ocean, giant tidal waves, Niagara Falls, the Sahara desert, etc) - may be, and they are delightful." At one point in "The Enquiry", Burke states that the experience of "delightful horror" is indeed "the most genuine effect and truest test of the sublime."



Before continuing I should mention that in his aesthetics, Burke conceptually distinguishes "delight" from "pleasure"; he stipulates that "delight expresses the sensation which accompanies the removal of pain or danger"
and that unlike pleasure, "delight" is a passion of " solid, strong and severe nature."Whereas Burke describes pleasure as having an indolent and voluptuous nature, delight, in contrast, is a sensation enlivens/stimulates in the subject a sense of fortitude, exaltation and "exertion"; it is not merely passive relief.


That we take delight in terror - that we are naturally fit to experience the sublime - is evidence for Burke that we do indeed live in an enchanted world commanded by an awful power that will forever remain incomprehensible to us. When we draw our attention to this awful, "almighty power", Burke writes, "we shrink into the minuteness of our own nature and are, in a manner, annihilated before it" ( "It", for Burke, was, BTW, the God of Christianity)...and..."If we rejoice, we rejoice with trembling." This experience of "salutary fear" or "delightful horror" which is a fundamental sine qua non attribute of the sublime is, Burke declares, also the essence of all "true religion".


To continue. The passion that Burke identifies with the sublime is first and foremost "astonishment", by which he means a shocking or disruptive incapacitation of reason. Its secondary effects are " admiration, reverence and respect." Thus, Burke's conceptualisation of the sublime led him to identify an instinctive and ennobling delight that human beings (Freely ) take in their own subordination. This core idea appears in different articulations across the breadth of Burke's work in the form of evocative and seemingly paradoxical phrases such as : "proud submission"; "dignified obedience"; "spirit of exalted freedom" in the face of "servitude"; "voluntary inequality and dependence" and even " "free bondage". The notion plays a pivotal role in Burke's Conservative political philosophy, in particular with respect to his views on such themes as legitimate authority in the State and the meaning of social order, the traditional principles prescription and privilege, the hierarchical ranking of social classes as a natural phenomena, the concept of "organic society" and so on. The influence Burke's concept of the sublime in aesthetic played in his political theorising is a fascinating issue though In this post I am chiefly interested in the religious implications of the sublime, (and I will discuss this issue further in due course below.)


What I would like to do now is use a particular example, namely, what is referred to by certain critics working in the field of modern aesthetics as the "Nuclear Sublime", to precis some of the key ideas I have presented thus far in my attempt to provide as clear and correct an account of the concept of the sublime as possible.


I think we can obtain a very clear and accurate insight into the nature of the aesthetic sublime through reading the testimonies of persons who have, in the past, witnessed first hand the detonation of nuclear bombs from a safe distance. The world's first atomic bomb test took place in the United States in 1945 at Alamogordo in the New Mexico desert under the supervision J. Robert Oppenheimer, who was the director of the operation was referred to as "The Trinity Project". The test was, as you probably know, successful, and here is how one high-ranking military eyewitness - Brigadier General Thomas F. Farrell - described the experience of watching the nuclear bomb explode...


"The effects could well be called unprecedented, magnificent, stupendous, beautiful and terrifying... the whole country was lighted by a searing light with the intensity many times that of the midday sun...It lighted every peak, crevasse and ridge of the nearby mountain range with a clarity and beauty that cannot be described, but must be seen to be imagined. It was that beauty the great poets dream about but describe most poorly and inadequately...Thirty seconds after the explosion came...the strong, sustained, awesome roar, which warned of doomsday and made us feel that we puny things were blasphemous to dare tamper with forces heretofore reserved to The Almighty...Words are inadequate tools for acquainting those not present with the physical, mental and psychological effects. It had to be witnessed to be realised."


Another witness present that day at the "Trinity Project" nuclear bomb test was William Lane, a correspondent from "The New York Times", when he saw the atom bomb explode, Lane, said...

"In that moment hung eternity, time stood still. Space contracted to a pinpoint...One felt as though he had been privileged to witness the Birth of the World - to be present at the moment of creation when God said 'Let there be Light'."


Lane also witnessed the detonation of the "Baker" atomic bomb in the Bikini Atoll a year later in 1946 and reported that this explosion produced...

"...a gigantic dome of water, white, beautiful, terror-inspiring", it was he said, "one of the most splendid, spectacular and awe-inspiring sights ever seen by man on the planet."


Victor Weisskopt, a major consultant physicist working on Oppenheimer's "Trinity Project", watched the atomic test at Alamogordo from base camp because he said he "wanted to experience the full impact of the blast." Like many others who witnessed the nuclear test that day, Weisskopf described the effect of the explosion as : mesmerising, dazzling, striking, rapturous, unforgettable, incomprehensible and ineffable. The sight, he says - again re-echoing the sentiments of many other eye-witnesses that day - evoked the experience of an uncanny communion/comingling of "both the beautiful and the terrible". As he saw the fireball rise, he described a blue halo that he said reminded him, " in spite of an inner resistance to such an analogy, of a painting by the medieval master, Matthias Grunwald. Part of the altar piece at Colmar, the painting depicts Jesus in the middle of a bright yellow ascending sphere surrounded by a blue halo. The explosion of an atomic bomb and the resurrection of Christ - what a paradoxical and disturbing association !"

[/i]
In these descriptions above, and in the many other efforts that individuals have made to try and record in words the experience of seeing a nuclear bomb being detonated, Edmund Burke would instantly recognise the distinctive hallmark symptoms of the aesthetic sublime. The terminology leaves no doubt...


* "magnificent, beautiful stupendous, staggering and awe-inspiring"
* "both greatly terrifying and greatly beautiful"
* astonishing, astounding, spectacular, bedazzling and rapturous"
* unforgettable and ineffable
* "like the divine splendour of the Mighty One"
* incomprehensible and unintelligible - beyond the grasp of rational/logical cognition
* inspiring a "feeling of dread mixed with veneration, reverence, gratitude or respectful fear."
* evoking a "sense of solemn sancity and reverential wonder tinged with fear."
* the experience of "horror and sacred awe."
* having "monumental size and power"


The boundless night sky is another textbook example of the sublime in nature. HAN refers to Emerson's account of how he was affected by gazing up into into the heavens in the quiet stillness of the countryside...

Hereandnow wrote:
October 8th, 2018, 11:48 am
"... at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, Note I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration.I am glad to the brink of fear.... Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign... Standing on the bare ground, Note -- my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, -- all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am a part or particle of God... I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty.

Note how Emerson reports that he feels "glad to the brink of fear" as he looks up into the "infinite" heavens above him; the phase evokes a sensual experience that is, I think, patently analogous to Burke's feeling of "delightful horror" ( or "salutary fear"), a feeling/sensation which was, as I mentioned above, what he considered to be "the most genuine effect and truest test of the sublime." note as well the following terms Emerson uses in this passage, namely: "perfect exhilaration", which I take to connote an experience of profoundly delightful exaltation or (even of exquisite rapture/ravishment); "infinite space" -an allusion to inconceivably vast spatial extension that characterises sublime phenomena in nature; "uncontained (i.e. boundless/limitless) and immortal (eternal) beauty" - another reference to the sublime quality of incalculable/immeasurable temporal and spatial greatness; "all mean egoism vanishes...I am nothing" consider the striking parallel between this comment and Burke's assertion that, in experiencing the sublime, "We shrink into the minuteness of our own nature and are, in a manner annihilated before it." Finally, r I mentioned above that the experience of "salutary fear" ( "delightful horror") was regarded by Burke to be both a fundamental affection of the aesthetic sublime and the essence of "all true religion", note how Emerson ( in the paragraph of his text HAN quotes") associates the feeling he has of being "glad to the brink of fear" with religious sentiments that are expressed in the same paragraph of text , namely: "Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign" and "the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am a part or particle of God."


Now that I have provided what I hope is a reasonably comprehensive definition of the concept of the sublime in aesthetics, I would like to respond to some comments that Mr HAN made in his recent (October 8th) post on this tread in response to my claim that in mindfully gazing up into the sublimity of the boundless night sky on a still, quiet evening from a vantage point somewhere within an isolated , natural rural setting, we literally sense the presence of God, and that this is an incontrovertible, indubitable fact. (NB: I define "God" to be an infinite, eternal, immaterial, supernatural, necessary, - i.e. non-contingent) -, unchanging, unitary Being who is endowed with such attributes as we term perfect/ideal/absolute Beauty, Love, Moral Virtue and Truth.)

Hereandnow wrote:
October 8th, 2018, 11:48 am
There are countless others. I could write my own. It is extravagant talk, and rightly so, but it leaves the inquirer with nothing but questions, after all, all of this is belongs to loose thinking, and because of this it fails to advance the experience objectively. The history of serious human thinking about religion is long and often absurd. The hard part is to give credence, that is, justification, to these interpretative challenges. Emerson and the like can take a person, if so inclined, into the rabbit hole, but two questions remain: how deep can you go, and what, exactly, IS this rabbit hole and how can I clarify this to my discriminating understanding and not just start believing dogmatically in a lot of nonsense? Feelings of the holy, the divine presence, God's grace, redemption, are not self interpreting, for interpretation is always in language and language bearing agencies like us inevitably pervert the discussion.
My take on this is, yes, I am a "transparent eyeball" and feel "the presence of God" but what does this mean? The answer is that it is not reducible to anything else IN language, so the saying requires one to put language aside. But let's look at the nature of such a thing and perhaps we can get closer to explaining the actual event, and in the explaining we become more deeply engaged because it is the tacit explanatory world of interpretation that we are always in that works to inhibit making progress. THIS is where philosophy steps in. My thinking is that philosophy has one purpose, and that is liberation through inquiry. Philosophy is about basic questions and assumptions, the ones that are always already there and fill the perceiving mind with presuppositions that give form and meaning to the world ANTECEDENT TO the perception. This is called dogma, or, what Kierkegaard calls dogma, and i agree. Ask a thousand times what a tree is, read Kant, and a dozen other ontologists and antiontologists, then you will reroute your answer, reconfigure the concepts, and come out looking at trees and everything else very differently. And the intimations of immortality you had at the outset can become transcendental enlightenment, for what stands between an actual person and apprehension of actuality is a firmly entrenched familiarity, a reified familiarity, which is, what Heidegger thought, as I read him, human beings "are". He was mistaken, I think. Emerson was right, as was Dionysius the Areopagite and others; it's just that they couldn't say why they were right. This is what philosophy, or jnana yoga, is for.

I think Burke is right when he argues (as I mentioned above) that the fact we take delight in horror, i.e; the fact that we are naturally fit to experience the sublime provide solid evidence that we do indeed live in an enchanted world as subjects commanded by an awesome, almighty supernatural (divine) power. A transcendent power that will remain forever incomprehensible to us. I think it is solid evidence because Burke's aesthetic theory is not rooted in custom or tradition, but rather in the shared sensory apparatus of all human beings. "We do and must suppose", Burke writes, that "since the physical organs have the same conformation the same sensation must be common to them". In other words, because we all possess tongues, for example, that are physically alike, we all experience the taste of sugar to be sweet and lemon juice to be sour, likewise because normally formed human eyes all have the same biological/anatomical structure and function in the same manner (physiologically), when we look up - a la Emerson - into the boundless, starry night sky, what we see ( i.e our visual perception of what we are gazing at, is essentially the same, and thus it evokes an experience of the same sensations/feelings/passions). Burke, by firmly anchoring aesthetic judgement in a uniform and corporeal response to physical sensation manages, -successfully IMO -, to validly establish a solid , objective foundation for the legislation of taste. Burke avoids the pitfalls of subjectivism, he does not place beauty and the sublime "in the eye of the beholder" and thereby rescues aesthetics from being relegated to the realm of unreliable whims and fancies.

I am certain, HAN, that agreements in sensation are far stronger than tenuous agreements in philosophical ideas or opinions, and Burke is right to argue that these judgements are legitimated by the fact they are firmly grounded in automatic natural responses of the human body's innate sense perceptual apparatus to the stimuli it receives from the external environment. "The cause of feelings arises from the mechanical structure of our bodies", Burke writes, "from the natural frame and constitution of our minds", not from the uncertain dictates of our "reasoning faculty". Given this, I believe that the sensible knowledge we gain of the existence of God when we experience profoundly sublime natural phenomena can be trusted as veridicious, and thus it renders the need for any philosophical enquiry into the matter redundant. When Emerson declared he felt the presence of God when he experienced of the sublime in nature, he was right; the God he refers to does indeed exist, the intuitive sensible knowledge of God provided by his witnessing the sublime is indubitable and does not need to justify its veracity in terms of any kind of philosophical logic - chopping or abstract process of rational argumentation.

Let me conclude with a final quote from Burke's "Enquiry...

"Whenever the wisdom of our Creator ( God) intended that we should be affected with any thing, He dis not confide the execution of his design to the languid and precarious operation of of reason,"..." but endowed it with powers and properties that... captivate the soul before the intellect is ready either to join with them or to oppose them."


Regards


Dachshund

Post Reply