The Natural Sublime: Kant and the Domination of Nature

Dissertation, Washington University (1991)

Especially in continental philosophy, the concept of the sublime has gained much attention in the past decade. Rather than participating in this post-modern discussion, I explore the historical background of the sublime. At the center of my discussion is the examination of Kant's critical 'Analytic of the Sublime' of the Critique of Judgement. The main thesis of this dissertation is that the Kantian sublime contributes directly to the Enlightenment-project of the domination of man over nature. ;In Chapter 1, I outline the crucial features of this project, show that the project of the domination of human ingenuity over nature permeated the intellectual community, and I describe how the attitude of human invincibility was utterly destroyed by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. In Chapter 2, I consider Kant's optimism, and I trace it throughout his writings. Moreover, I examine Kant's own way of dealing with the Lisbon earthquake by analyzing Kant's three earthquake essays. In Chapter 3, I examine Kant's transcendental turn with respect to his theory of the sublime. I analyze both his pre-transcendental Observations on the Beautiful and the Sublime and his critical 'Analytic of the Sublime'. Finally, in Chapter 4, I show that Kant was indeed concerned with the domination-project when he wrote the 'Analytic of the Sublime'. To that end, I examine Hartmut Bohme's discussion of the Kantian sublime. I also distinguish between two types of domination, i.e., practical and theoretical domination, without which a coherent analysis of Kant's theory in the light of my thesis would be incomplete
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