Kant’s Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime
Cover of issue 30
Requires Subscription PDF

How to Cite

Kant’s Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime. (2001). The Political Science Reviewer, 30, 34-57. https://politicalsciencereviewer.wisc.edu/index.php/psr/article/view/398


Kant’s Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime is often mined (especially, these days, for damning sexual and racial stereotypes) but rarely singled out for careful study. The essay was completed in 1763 when Kant, hardly forty and already a successful philosophic and scientific author, was enjoying his first years as an instructor at the University of Königsberg where he was by all accounts a lively and popular teacher. Raised by his poor but honest father and a pious mother to whom he seems to have been especially devoted, Kant had recently returned from a series of tutoring posts that had introduced him to the ways of fashionable society. Indeed, to one cultivated mistress (using "mistress" in its old-fashioned sense), we owe the earliest extant portrait of Kant, set down in what might almost be called the bloom of youth. Königsberg, then under Russian occupation, was itself enjoying a social and moral awakening from the dourer habits of Prussian pietism. Dashing Russian officers mingled socially with both local aristocrats and newly prosperous businessmen. Middle class women—formerly virtually sequestered—attained new social prominence. Something like salons appeared—for example, at the home of Frau Maria Charlotta Jacobi, with whom Kant may himself have been romantically linked.In these fluid times, Kant moved easily between the lowest and the highest circles. 1763 is also approximately the year in which Kant first read Rousseau’s Emile—both the occasion for the well-known story about Kant’s interrupted walk and the cause, according to Kant’s famous confession, of a fundamental redirection of his thinking. "I am by natural inclination a researcher...and I thought that this alone could constitute the honor of man; ...Rousseau set me upright. And I would consider myself more useless than the ordinary worker if everything I did did not contribute to establishing/securing the rights of man." "It is...fitting," he wrote in the same series of notes, "that a human being expend his life on teaching others how to live...by propagating (ziehen) Emile. Would that Rousseau showed how, on the basis of his book (Emile), there could spring forth schools." All of Kant’s subsequent philosophy can be understood as an attempted answer to that implicit question.
Requires Subscription PDF