What, according to Kant, are the roles of displeasure and pleasure in our experience of the sublime?

What, according to Kant, are the roles of displeasure and pleasure in our experience of the sublime? You may like to refer to Kant’s account of the purposiveness (and contrapurposiveness) of the two types of sublime. You may also compare and contrast with Aristotle’s and/or Nietzsche’s accounts of the purpose of negative feelings in your answer.


This module introduces students to key concepts and texts in philosophical aesthetics and the historical and critical role it plays in political philosophy. The first half of the module focuses on the sustained and intensive reading of (primarily) the first part of Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment (pertaining to aesthetic judgment), key debates involved in the historical development of aesthetics as a science of sensation and judgments of taste, the ramifications for the theory of moral sentiments and the genesis of art criticism in early German Idealism, and contemporary interpretations of the significance of Kant’s argument for human freedom and the autonomy of reason.

The second half of the module examines the aftermath of the revolution Kant introduced by focusing attention on various responses—and criticisms—that have arisen since the publication of the third Critique. Through close textual engagement, we will explore a variety of distinct views on the Kantian legacy, including: the question of representation; civil imagination; technology and the aestheticization of politics; and race and the knowledge of freedom.

Approaching your chosen question

• Identify different parts of the question (e.g. one part more ‘descriptive’, the other more ‘critical’ or ‘interpretive’). Think about how you’ll answer both parts.

• Identify the question’s ambiguities, or the points at which it might be developed into something more specific.

• Practice both analysis (taking the terms of the question apart) and synthesis (reconstructing them in an original or more critical manner).

• Turn the question into a ‘problem’, i.e. turn it into a challenge that cannot simply be answered, but instead demands a productive and original engagement from you.


• A sophisticated essay will demonstrate awareness that words and concepts can mean different things in the hands of different thinkers (and even in the hands of the same thinker! E.g. ‘aura’, ‘art’).

• Your essay should demonstrate both close reading and awareness of historical patterns (e.g. ‘aesthetics’ has roots in ancient Greek aesthesis (sense-perception) but only becomes a recognized area of philosophy in the 18th century with Alexander Baumgarten)

• Use reliable philosophical encyclopedias and dictionaries, especially those which are attentive to historical transformations (e.g. Caygill, A Kant Dictionary; Barbara Cassin (ed.), Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon—available as ebook via Goldsmiths library)

• If a term is not given a specific definition (e.g. katharsis in Aristotle) or is translated in different ways (e.g. mimesis) then you might use this as a point of departure for your thinking.


• Approach your question and your sources critically. What does this mean?

• ‘Criticism’ has roots in Greek krinein: to judge/sentence but also to distinguish/separate, to inquire/investigate and to select/decide

• To critically analyze/discuss, therefore, does not just mean to cast judgement on or to find faults, but to look for the most ‘critical’ parts of a text. Don’t (exclusively) bring your own preconceptions to the text; instead analyze it on its own terms and those of the relevant contexts.

•  Critique is also etymologically related to crisis (think about crisis as a ‘critical point’, as used in ancient medicine: look for such ‘critical’ points in your text, and make an intervention)

• One way of thinking about this: beginnings and ends. See, for example, your notes and the slides to very first lecture on Aristotle (poetry as the beginning of philosophy) and Nietzsche (philosophy is the end of poetry). Think about what these types of formulations mean, and what they say about the relation between philosophy and art (or the sensible world in general).