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An eloquent and sometimes even erotic book, the Philosophical Enquiry was long dismissed as a piece of mere juvenilia. However, Burke's analysis of the relationship between emotion, beauty, and art form is now recognized as not only an important and influential work of aesthetic theory, but also one of the first major works in European literature on the Sublime, a subjectAn eloquent and sometimes even erotic book, the Philosophical Enquiry was long dismissed as a piece of mere juvenilia. However, Burke's analysis of the relationship between emotion, beauty, and art form is now recognized as not only an important and influential work of aesthetic theory, but also one of the first major works in European literature on the Sublime, a subject that has fascinated thinkers from Kant and Coleridge to the philosophers and critics of today....

Title : A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful
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ISBN : 9780192835802
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 208 Pages
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A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful Reviews

  • BillKerwin
    2019-03-25 09:28

    An interesting early essay by the father of modern conservatism on the sublime and beautiful and how they differ. Thoughtful and occasionally entertaining. The 18th century prose--like most 18th century prose--is excellent.

  • John Kulm
    2019-04-18 08:36

    I didn’t completely agree with the ideas in this booke, but I rate it five stars because it made me think and it showed me ways of seeing that I didn’t notice before. He must have been quite the extrovert personality type, because he entirely associated the sublime and beautiful with external objects – things for the five senses - and he said nothing about beauty being in the eye of the beholder. Burke mainly equates the sublime with “terror,” and contrasts it with beauty which he equates with things that inspire us to love. I can remember a time when love woke me up psychologically. When love failed to continue, the sublime aspects of my anguish continued to wake me up psychologically. So, both ends of the spectrum should be embraced: beauty and love versus the sublime, terror, fear, anguish, impressiveness.This is where I felt disagreement, because every time he associated the sublime with terror, I wanted to remind myself that sublime is also associated with other things like being impressed, amazed, awe-struck, and even anguished. There is a terror-association in all those, but there’s a problem with contrasting terror with beauty: The contrast makes us want to avoid the sublime. Modern thought contrasts love with fear, and encourages us to avoid fear, but if we contrast love-as-beauty with terror-as-sublimity, we can see that the sublime has a wonderful place. Burke writes about such things as the awesome-ness of mountains and the darkness of heavy forests as being sublime and terror-striking. There’s wonder in this, and it’s heaps more interesting than the modern tendency to avoid fear in favor of love. “Beauty” is what made me want to read this book, because I wanted to get a clue about what poets and artists mean when they speak so highly of beauty, and… okay, I get it now. I also understand now, from this book, that being awake psychologically can come from beauty – being in love – as much as from the sublime, being anguished and impressed-upon. Although that wasn’t Burke’s purpose in writing it, that’s what I got from the book. Here are some quotes from A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful: “Sympathy: It is by the first of these passions that we enter into the concerns of others; that we are moved as they are moved, and are never suffered to be indifferent spectators of almost any thing which men can do or suffer. For sympathy must be considered as a sort of substitution, by which we are put into the place of another man, and affected in many respects as he is affected; so that this passion may either partake of the nature of those which regard self-preservation, and turning upon pain may be a source of the sublime. … It is by this principle chiefly that poetry, painting, and other affecting arts, transfuse their passions from one breast to another, and are often capable of grafting delight on wretchedness, misery, and death itself.” “On closing this general view of beauty, it naturally occurs, that we should compare it with the sublime; and in this comparison there appears a remarkable contrast. For sublime objects are vast in their dimensions, beautiful ones comparatively small; beauty should be smooth, and polished; the great, rugged and negligent; beauty should shun the right line, yet deviate from in insensibly; the great in many cases loves the right line, and when it deviates, it often makes a strong deviation; beauty should not be obscure; the great ought to be dark and gloomy; beauty should be light and delicate; the great ought to be solid, and even massive. They are indeed ideas of a very different nature, one being founded on pain, the other on pleasure.” “I have before observed, that whatever is qualified to cause terror, is a foundation capable of the sublime; to which I add, that not only these, but many things from which we cannot probably apprehend any danger have a similar effect, because they operate in a similar manner. I observed too, that whatever produces pleasure, is fit to have beauty engrafted on it.”

  • The Literary Chick
    2019-03-21 09:34

    An elegant work that expresses in words feelings and emotions that you knew but could never quite articulate.

  • David
    2019-03-28 07:18

    As important as John Locke is to philosophy, his influence is sure to lead to the production of books like Burke's work on aesthetics. The reader is warned early at least. Burke proposes to outline aesthetics in scientific fashion because he truly believes its components must fall into line as the dictates of Reason do. *cringe* Just as Locke believed morality and ethics would be broken down into perfectly mapped out sciences if we just stopped and properly defined our "clear and distinct terms," Burke proceeds to catalog the aesthetic buzzwords that we can't go without. Look, Locke's moral science didn't happen. So this ain't happening either. Think Hume's book on morality. You're not getting any philosophical enquiry. You're getting a handbook. Kant's treatment of the sublime in Critique of Judgment makes any of Burke's attempt on the same useless (no big shame, it is Kant, I guess). Burke's idea of beauty runs like a checklist. He only looks at constituents and comments hardly at all on the integration of those parts. Barely anything on the subjective either which is ridiculous in aesthetics...he acknowledges only subjective "sensibility" which is just degree of awareness of the checklist items. The work never goes any deeper. The reader can only hope to hit upon a departure point for his or her own aesthetic reflections at best.

  • Joe
    2019-04-12 08:21

    As evident from the title of the book, Burke questions and interprets the Sublime and Beautiful. Namely, how it affects the individual, and possible reasons for the consequent feelings. This latter point, in my opinion, is where Burke starts to think much more as Psychologist, and begins to link the mind-body relationship; for him, they are greatly connected.Part One begins with Burke highlighting the Novelty of life, its decline through life, and the inability for mere Novelty to excite the mind: “In short, the occurrences of life, by the time we come to know it a little, would be incapable of affecting the mind with any other sensations than those of loathing and weariness, if many things were not adapted to affect the mind by means of other powers besides novelty in them, and of other passions besides curiosity in ourselves.”This is followed by his presenting of Pain and Pleasure, not as a spectrum, but as both individual spectrums both with ‘indifference’ as the neutral point. Burke defines indifference as the “state neither of pain or pleasure”. This continues throughout Part 1, with multiple examples such as Joy and grief. One particular example, which I believe is where he first introduces a ‘psychological’ aspect, is his understanding that passions which concern self-preservation rely on pain or danger. This includes ideas of pain, sickness and death. This is contracted by the small affect that “life” and “health” have on the individual. This latter idea initialises his ideas of “The Sublime”; huge, immeasurable, infinite, dangerous, dark/obscure, loud. A mention is made of his other ‘passion’ category: Society. In short, it is the passions arising from gratifications and pleasure. This contrasts self-preservation, which arises from pain and danger. I will not talk any more about this as I believe it was just Burke’s way of creating a ‘universal’ idea. Part Two focus on the idea of the Sublime. The prerequisites, previously mentioned, are explained in this chapter. Astonishment, he thinks, is “the effect of the sublime in its highest degree; the inferior effects are admiration, reverence, and respect”. Although he doesn’t actually directly tackle astonishment, he attributes it to factors such as Privation of darkness, solitude and silence. This lack of, which Burke recognises to cause obscurity, is a key factor in the feeling of the Sublime. The thought of obscurity also plays a vital role in Beauty; but in this case, it is the completeness. A particular prerequisite for the Sublime, which I feel is perhaps one of the most important; Kant will agree, is the idea of Vastness: “Greatness of dimension is a powerful cause of the sublime. This is followed by the idea of Infinity: “Infinity has a tendency to fill the mind with that sort of delightful horror, which is the most genuine effect, and truest test of the sublime.[…] But the eye not being able to perceive the bounds of many things, they seem to be infinite, and they produce the same effects as if they were really so. We are deceived in the like manner, if the parts of some large object are so continued to any indefinite number, that the imagination meets no check which may hinder its extending them at pleasure.”Part Three outlines the idea of Beauty. In broadest terms, the essentials are: smoothness, paleness, symmetry, smallness, and gentle curves. Interestingly, he disagreed with the notion of proportions being a cause of beauty. Using somewhat strange metaphors, such as the proportions seen in vegetables and different species of Birds, he presents that we [humans] do not find universal proportions beautiful, and that they differ with everything we see. Burke also disagrees that the fitness (adaptability) of an animal causes it to be seen as beautiful. He presents his rationale by giving examples such as the swine. Having moved away from these factors, he focuses on properties of the object. This is important as he locates the qualities of beauty in the things themselves, rather than the object is beautiful because the perceiver views it to be.One particular example for the effect of Gradual variation on Beauty: “Observe that part of a beautiful woman where she is perhaps the most beautiful, about the neck and breasts; the smoothness, the softness, the easy and insensible swell; the variety of the surface, which is never for the smallest space the same; the deceitful maze through which the unsteady eye slides giddily, without knowing where to fix, or whither it is carried. Is not this a demonstration of that change of surface, continual, and yet hardly perceptible at any point, which forms one of the great constituents of beauty?”Part Four is where Burke truly blossoms. Before, he had given ‘needs’ for the sublime and beautiful, but had better explained what the causes were, and the reasons why. Some excerpts from this section: Why visual objects of great dimensions are sublime: “Vision is performed by having a picture, formed by the rays of light which are reflected from the object, painted in one piece, instantaneously, on the retina, or last nervous part of the eye.[…] all the light reflected from a large body should strike the eye in one instant; yet we must suppose that the body itself is formed of a vast number of distinct points, every one of which, or the ray from every one, makes an impression on the retina. So that, though the image of one point should cause but a small tension of this membrane, another, and another, and another stroke, must in their progress cause a very great one, until it arrives at last to the highest degree; and the whole capacity of the eye, vibrating in all its parts, must approach near to the nature of what causes pain, and consequently must produce an idea of the sublime.”Similar logic to the above is used in the creation of Sublime through the repetition of noise. My opinions on Burke’s workI can definitely see why he is an important figure in the development of the Aesthetic, particularly the idea of the Sublime and Beautiful. His somewhat psychological development into the reasons of the feelings we encounter definitely made it in an interesting read. For example, his mentioning of how things beautiful have the ability to decrease an individual’s nerves foreshadows what we now know from Neuroscience. Having read a bit of Kant’s book on the Sublime, and he greatly focuses on the ‘greatness’ and ‘infinite’, which I too, believe are the best sections of this book. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to know about the development of the Aesthetic, and/or has an interest in the Romantic notion of feelings and how nature, normally, affects Humans.

  • Emily
    2019-03-27 02:11

    The question with this kind of book is: what can the contemporary reader get out of it? If you are looking for a book that will actually tell you something about the nature of beauty and sublimity, you'll probably find Burke's argument to be dated, strange, somewhat irrelevant, and sometimes unintentionally funny. The best way to approach this book is as a historical document. The Enquiry was an incredibly influential book in British and American aesthetic thought and is probably best studied in that light (although it fell out of favor for a long time. The reason why we have such a proliferation of new editions is scholars' renewed interested in it over the past 30 or 40 years.) Burke's main argument can be summed up thus: beauty = smoothness, paleness, symmetry, smallness, gentle curves, etc. (clearly he's deriving this from the pale, curvy ideal of womanhood in mid-18th century Britain)sublimity = huge/immeasurable, infinite, dangerous, dark/obscure, loud (think of the stormy ocean or a chasm in the Alps--preferably viewed from a place of safety)This argument is important because it locates the qualities of sublimity and beauty in things themselves. That is, a vase is beautiful because it physically embodies these particular qualities. The rival school of thought held that beauty is not located in the vase itself, but arises when I perceive it. What Burke has to say about beauty and sublimity per se is probably not very interesting to us, but his way of thinking about it--that is, his answer to the question of whether or not aesthetic qualities inhere in objects--is still very relevant.

  • Fabrício Tavares De Moraes
    2019-04-14 05:39

    Investigação minuciosa e rigorosa sobre a fisiologia da percepção estética.

  • J. Alfred
    2019-04-05 08:19

    Not something I'd read for fun, but I think I'm smarter for having finished it. It is a solid philosophical inquiry into the origin of our ideas of the sublime and beautiful, as you may have been able to guess from its title. It is apparently a foundational text for the aesthetics of the Romantics, and apparently Burke (who knows at least four languages) wrote it when he was nineteen, so if you want to feel like your life is passing you by, this is a good one.

  • Nick
    2019-04-02 03:12

    Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh whaaaaaaaaaaaaat?This was supposed to be a book about aesthetics, but it ended up being a book about Edmund Burke's own little deeply subjective analysis of his own aesthetic tastes and preferences. Its amazing how little in this can be universalized and yet how confidently it is presented as though hes discussing physics, or even ethics.DID YOU KNOW that smooth objects are inherently more beautiful than rough objects? Don't tell the Japanese! Did you know that sharp angles are not as beautiful as curves? Did you know that dark skin isn't as beautiful as light skin? Whoops! Yeah, lots of stuff like that in here. Random intuitive leaps about what beauty consists of which seem grossly out of step with what we currently think. Also he makes up a bunch of divisions like "the sublime" and some other distinctions like the horrifying or something. Obviously those are real distinctions, but somewhat arbitrary ones, which is not how he treats them.

  • Ashley
    2019-03-20 04:26

    An interesting look at what evokes emotions in viewers. Not a riveting read, but interesting if you wanted to write a book/make a movie.

  • Chris brown
    2019-03-31 09:24

    If you are into philosophy enough to find this obscure book on your own then you probably would be better off not reading it. It is a very well written, very well thought out work, but at points can be extremely repetitive and short.There are sections where you would hope that Burke would go into vast detail but he only offer a paragraph or two while there are sections that continue on for pages leaving you to question,"why?"At times i also found Burke sounding as if he was giving a scientific report on things that in truth can not now nor have ever been able to be comprehended by science let alone measured.I found part five, which dealt with the words very thought intriguing, it however was not worth reading through the other four to obtain. Part two section two on terror highly quotable as well as all of Part one.Overall I would say if you do find this book and would like to give it a go, Read part one then skip to part five and rest your worry because you are not missing anything.

  • Sophie
    2019-04-11 08:36

    La recherche philosophique est une lecture intéressante pour ce qui traite du sublime et du beau, ou de l'esthétique en général. Elle m'a été très utile dans mes recherches pour ma maîtrise, mais bien que de nombreux points abordés par Burke m'éclairent sincèrement, son argumentation basée sur la Providence me laisse quelque peu froide (surtout en la comparant à celle que fait Kant dans sa Critique de la faculté de juger). L'argumentation est toutefois limpide, bien présentée, et fort divertissante. C'est une lecture de philo qui peut intéresser un large public, même si non initié au genre (comme moi).Relu 1 fois.

  • Sean Chick
    2019-03-22 10:40

    I found the eighteenth century prose a little more turgid than usual although Burke has some good ideas here. Its better than the bitter conservative drivel he later dished out.

  • Sarah Zandi
    2019-04-19 04:33

    Never again

  • Nick
    2019-04-17 07:18

    A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful by Edmund Burke 1757. A very interesting work that attempts to do to aesthetics what Locke tried to do with philosophy. That is to put it on an empirical or scientific basis. Over a century before Charles Darwin, Burke tries to ground the sublime and the beautiful into survival and sexual reproduction. The beautiful is rooted to pleasure and ultimately sexuality, and the sublime rooted in pain and aggression, and ultimately survival. The work is definitely worth going back to to reconsider the dynamic nature of some of his concepts, much as he tried to root them all in conscious sense impressions. The introduction on taste is the longest section of the work and understanding the section is crucial toward accepting his conclusions. Burke sets up the work telling us that the standards of taste are the same among all humans and that differences are more "apparent than real." If there were not some standard, we could not communicate with each other as we do on a regular basis. We accept certain measures as objective like money or the law, but continue to declare things like beauty or taste to be "in the eye of the beholder." We have this notion of taste, if there was nothing behind it, its invocation in discourse would be quite absurd. Burke defines taste as the faculty of mind which is affected by something. That something is an object, through sensation. We can safely assume that we humans all experience things the same way. If not we would assume that "the same cause operating in the same manner...will produce different effects, which would be highly absurd." Language follows this commonality of experience in how we describe certain tastes. Sweetness is pleasant, sourness is unpleasant. Burke then asserts something like Hume's copy principle by saying that the original impression is stronger than any imagination which derives ultimately from the impression. "The power of distinguishing between the natural and the acquired relish remains to the very last." Nobody can think that tobacco is sweet. If one does so, we "immediately conclude that the organs of this man are out of order, and that his palate is utterly vitiated." We can however derive pleasure or pain from the same tastes, dependent on our individual habits and temperament, but not different tastes. So far this is associationist psychology; our aversion and attraction to things is reinforced by prior experiences. Tobacco is desirable to some because of its effects other than taste "things do not spontaneously present themselves to the palate...they are generally applied to it...they often form the palate by degrees, and by force of these associations."Besides sensation, the mind can also represent at will ideas of things as they are in memory or create new associations between them. This is imagination, which cannot produce anything new. What imagination does is form expectations about things we experience, such as fear or hope. Intelligence consists in comparison among different experiences. We prefer similarity in our train of thought (which is why it's so frustrating when music skips). We are more struck by resemblance, as completely different things require no more explanation between them than that they are different (law of excluded middle). "Men are much more inclined to belief than to incredulity." It takes mental acuity to differentiate things. Good taste doesn't depend on greater judgment or intelligence, but knowledge from experience. The difference among taste is a difference in degrees of knowledge. But all have common the criterion of pleasure and pain. And "so far as Taste is natural, it is nearly common to all." We can be more sensitive than others or be more familiar with certain tastes, while all having the same basis for judgement. (Jeremy Bentham would later say that "pushpin is as good as poetry", which would would only be true if one has the knowledge necessary to understand poetry. John Stuart Mill came up with the great retort "It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.") We then arrive at a fuller definition of taste. Taste because it requires some degrees of knowledge isn't just a "simple idea" or single impression, it is a synthetic unity of sense, imagination, and judgement. "The groundwork of all these is the same in the human mind."Burke sets out an objective or "scientific" criterion for discussing aesthetics, launching from the associationist psychologies of John Locke and David Hume. He establishes that it is possible to make rational inquiry into what is usually seen as subjective, provided its basis is in sense impression which for empiricists is the substance of reality. The main body of the work begins on the surface of emotions: novelty. Novelty or curiosity is the most superficial of emotions as it is chiefly concerned with its object. Once we get to know something, it doesn't grab our attention as something unknown, even if said thing is of worse quality. It is an active feeling, which it can be said motivates us into action like hardly anything else. If we want to learn something, it helps to be curious and not familiar with the subject matter. "Some degree of novelty just be one of the materials in every instrument which works upon the mind." Aristotle himself told us that philosophy begins with wonder. Next we move to the foundational emotions discussed in the taste section; pleasure and pain. Pleasure and pain are simple ideas. They cannot be reduced to another; pain is not the absence of pleasure and pleasure is not the absence of pain. Burke labels delight as the absence of pain. The mind can also be in a state of indifference, which is probably the most common state says Burke. Pleasure and pain can be interpreted as excitations in the bodily organs from this transfer of energy. Both pain and pleasure for Burke arouse us out of a state of indifference, being at least novel. Burke however is interested in a more phenomenal treatment of emotions. The greatest expression of pain and pleasure is the sublime and the beautiful, which are powerful feelings which derive from two needs: self-preservation and society. Self-preservation turns by pain, from the state of danger which from expectation of said state brings terror. Society aims at continuing our own existence through the species by generation, and living together in general. The sublime and the beautiful are for Burke powerful emotions, and he doesn't venture much further than that. He takes the experiences as given and seeks to ground them in sense impressions. His main argument is that the sublime and the beautiful are distinct experiences which can be explained by sensual factors. Self-preservation and the sublime are somewhat analogous to Freud's death drive. The death drive aims at equilibrium of the individual with the surrounding environment to reduce excitation. An organism will cannot forever resist this return which takes effort to overcome, making it a very powerful drive. For Burke, pain is a stronger emotion than pleasure, though he doesn't provide an explanation for this other than direct experience. From this he reasons that death is more arresting than pain, by comparison. We are more ready to suffer most pains rather than death. His reasoning I think is from self-preservation. Painful things are harmful to our existence and disrupt a chain of thinking, as Burke said before we prefer similarity to difference and new things to familiar things. So pain puts us into action to return to either indifference or pleasure. Burke said before that indifference is the state we are more often in. By death he probably means the experience of dying and not the actual state of non-existence. Burke follows the utilitarian logic of action being done to gain pleasure and avoid pain, with indifference being a state of inaction rather than something which takes effort to maintain (equilibrium).The sublime has its basis in pain, but operates on terror which is an expectation of pain. The sublime is so powerful because it takes hold of all our thoughts, mostly by imagination and expectation. Because of the imaginary and reckoning aspects, at a certain distance, the sublime can be delightful. We can experience the power the terrible holds over us while not being in pain or danger of our lives. The power is our attention because it is disruptive and different. It removes us from a state of indifference without introducing pain, and so can be a source of delight (though not pleasure). By being held in the mental state of terror by the sublime yet not experiencing pain, we can experience delight while avoiding danger. The other need is society, the aim of the beautiful, which is divisible into sexual society and general society. Both aim at species-life, through generation and maintenance of society. Generation of the species is of course sexuality which has its origin in "gratifications and pleasures." These pleasures are so strong that their loss produces violent and turbulent effects on us which aim at reestablishing said pleasures. These pleasures which seize the mind can be described as love, which like terror forms expectations about its objects and a mental dependency. The pleasure of sexuality and love is far greater than health and maintenance of life. This has to be so, for "the generation of mankind is a great purpose,named it is requisite that men should be animated to the pursuit of it by some great incentive." Without such a reward, it is unlikely that we would undergo the great challenges in its performance. In this way, love has an aggressive element which introduces ambivalence because it can conflict with our other needs. The beautiful comes from love which is grounded in pleasure. Brutes and animals attract to each other sexually, but out of instinct rather than choice. For humans, the pleasure others provide us captures our imagination and gives us the need to always have access to them. Love produces expectations for continuation, and to varying degrees reciprocity. "They inspire us with sentiments of tenderness and affection towards their persons; we like to have them near us, and we enter willingly into a kind of relation with them, unless we should have strong reasons to the contrary."The other social need, to belong with others in general, gives "no positive pleasure". This is puzzling since humans are social creatures. Total isolation, Burke notes, is very unpleasant. From this Burke reasons that social life is motivated more from pain than pleasure. Alienation from society is unpleasant, but keeping in mind that the absence pleasure is not painful, there is an element of ambivalence in that we do as Burke said require some time to ourselves even while long term isolation makes us unhappy. This ambivalence brings to mind Freud's superego which regulates individual behavior by pain and uneasiness. "When the superego is formed, considerable amounts of the aggressive instinct become fixated within the ego and operate there in a self-destructive fashion." The beautiful is like Eros, a formative drive. Eros maintains life in its individual forms, by continually striving to resist equilibrium with the environment. The ultimate aim is the preservation of the species, though this develops later in life and is fraught with difficulties for the individual. Self preservation Burke argued works by pain and danger. Species preservation cannot work like this because the good of the species does not always align with the individual and often runs counter. So there had to develop a way of bringing the individual in conformity with species-life. This parallels with modern evolutionary theory (Neo-Darwinism) which seeks to answer why an individual acting only with the survival of their genes would develop altruistic behavior. This begins with kin altruism as our relatives are genetically close to us. But over time these behaviors become reinforced and moored from their original purpose to apply to others. This process is called sublimation. Sublimation channels socially unacceptable desires into socially acceptable desires, without conscious awareness. In society, only a portion of our sexual energy is free to do with as we will. The rest of our sexual energy is prevented from expression. But rather than being bound up inside of us, which is destructive, we channel the remaining free energy into other socially acceptable ways. Burke lists three social passions which can be viewed as sublimation; sympathy, imitation, and ambition. Each are ways we can enjoy others while at the same time being separate from them. Sympathy as opposed to empathy involves imagining being someone else, rather than feeling the same as they do. It is a simulation, a substitution. The pleasure gained is from a safe distance where we can either imagine ourselves in another's good situation or avoiding their worse situation. Which is why we enjoy reading or watching the lives of fictional characters. Imitation (or repetition) identifies ourselves with others by copying their behavior and appearance, but by our own will. It is a voluntary identification, a multiplication of the other. This is how we often learn, and knowledge gives us power. Ambition manifests an aggressive impulse towards others, but which is aimed at other's approval or recognition of us, a fixation. "Men must remain as brutes do." This domination is largely imaginary, as we depend on the approval of those separate from us. We cannot overpower them to the point of annihilation as we won't gain their recognition if death. This all reminds me of both Thomas Hobbes' diffidence and glory among men in the state of nature, and Hegel's master-slave dialectic. Both deal with the intersubjective and conflicting nature of our desire to command nature to our needs.The sublime and the beautiful can be understood as repressed or inhibited means of indulging in primal impulses, as sublimation. Sublime experience puts us in the presence of power external to our own. The sublime connects us to the vast universe, as a sort of reunion. Burke lists greatness, obscurity, and infinity as belonging to the sublime. Freud described religion as providing an oceanic feeling, of limitless, and it is no wonder that the vast ocean is a common source of the sublime. This power derives from our initial connectedness to the world, primary narcissism. At a very young age we haven't divided the world into living and non-living, self and other. As we develop, we lose that direct connection to survive, as ourselves and with others. To return to that state would be self destructive, a major regression. The sublime experience is powerful because it brings back the sensation of that lost power without actually destroying us. The sublime is not comprehensible or controllable. It controls us, and it is only that power over us that makes it attractive. The beautiful in contrast is small, graceful, elegant. Burke maintains that beauty isn't in proportion or perfection. As beautiful things can be frail or very striking. Babies are weak but are found to be pleasing, and giraffe necks are not in equal proportion with their bodies, but are not considered to be grotesque. What is beautiful, it seems, relates to what we grasp, physically and mentally. We want to keep the beautiful, we want to control it, and we are able to comprehend it in thought. The enjoyment is not from power which makes the beautiful less compelling than the sublime, but more sought after. "For the enjoyment of pleasure, no great efforts of power are at all necessary." We can have power over beautiful things to keep them, for out of our control they are not as beautiful as the expectations associated with beautiful things produce a fear of loss. The masculine is sublime, the beautiful is feminine. Beauty and love drive us to continue and extend the struggle for existence; the sublime and terrible drive us to escape individual existence by experience of both reunion with the world and destruction of the self.

  • Andrius
    2019-04-18 07:30

    I'm not sure what value this has as an analysis of beauty and the sublime, as the definitions and distinctions it establishes seem fairly basic (now anyway -- maybe it had more to it at the time it was written, I wouldn't know). There were, however, some interesting ideas in there (especially those in the section on words, such as words, as signifiers, being connected more to the effect or feeling associated with the signified than any concrete image or conceptual idea of the signified itself). Much like in Reflections (which is the only other book by Burke that I've read so far), though, they sometimes suffer from inconsistency in argumentation.Burke builds his entire argument on the idea that there is an objective fundamental basis to taste (according to him rooted in various aspects of biology), which I found intriguing, kind of refreshing in the context of the modern obsession with ultimate subjectivity, and overall just not as misguided as you might think. The problem was in how he attempts to account for differences in taste (that is, as simple deviations from a general norm, which in itself isn't necessarily a bad way of doing in itself) -- more specifically, that these deviations, having started off fairly reasonable, quickly seemed to become anything that didn't fit his reasoning. I, at least, was definitely not convinced that some of these supposed general trends in taste are actually prominent enough to be used as such, or that they differ from these "abnormal" tastes enough in frequency for the latter to really be the irrelevant outliers Burke paints them as. I don't necessarily disagree with the spirit of some of these ideas, so to speak, but for a book that prides itself on being a highly technical and objective enquiry, treating aesthetics almost as natural science, there's a lot missing here.

  • Michael
    2019-04-18 09:25

    I had read this before but I reread it now, searching to see if I missed something the first time. My excellent teachers have almost universal praise for Burke. To be honest, I find him to be limited in many ways, especially in terms of his nativism and hetero-orthodoxy. Some of the discussion of beauty is so incredibly sexist as well. I admit he has much to say, but the tone is pompous, and I wonder if it's my own biases about how English seem to like to define rules for everything... I actually started wondering what kind of game association football (soccer) would be like if the Brazilians wrote the rules for the ancient Sumerian game instead of the English.

  • John Hall
    2019-04-20 06:39

    You will never look at the word sublime the same again. This is a book that sets about ordering the aesthetic principles and while it doesn't encompass everything it does its best to get the ball rolling on a bevy of different areas.

  • Andrew
    2019-03-22 05:31

    Fun book. Author makes distinctions between the sublime (or the great) and beauty. The level of detail is fascinating, and at some points quite humorous. Jagged, repetitious, infinite-like, dark, and huge things are likely to be sublime - if they cause us some terror. When we are brought to the threshold of great pain, and then relieved - a sense of "delight" - we are perhaps experiencing the sublime. On the other hand, positive pleasure is not equal to this sense of delight, and beauty not equal to the sublime. In an interesting and laudable section, Burke fights off the notion that beauty is found in some golden proportions. He appeals to all of the shapes of birds that we find beautiful (they come in many proportions) and recalls how deviations from the mediocre can be both beautiful and "remote from beauty" (for instance, the deformed). He suggests that so-called correct proportions are really just a matter of convention, and we are only struck by what varies from this. Then he goes on to outline what is beautiful: the smooth, the slowly varying line (no abrupt changes, please, that would be terrible), no right angles, no over-saturation of any hue, sweet tastes, middle frequencies of sound, smallness, etc. Such things we can love. In a curious and dated passage, Burke explains how sugar, when viewed through a microscope, is revealed to be of a spherical consistency. The "nervous papillae" of the tongue enjoys such a beautiful shape, and wherefore, we taste sweetness.The text finishes with a discussion of poetry which ends far too soon. He suggests that most words we use never create an image in our heads. So great poetry, rather than employ imitative description, aims for the effect of what is being described. Thus the power invoked by invocations of God and the Devil when attached to otherwise unrepresentable ideas. One wonders if the godless technical language of contemporary English therefore loses much of its ability to invoke the great and beautiful. Orators like Obama have to channel the religious convictions of earlier speakers, and unrepresentable notions of hope, in order to sway his modern, cynical audience.It is interesting how the wolf, elephant, and tiger, animals that we would probably call beautiful today, or at least cute in a stuffed animal form (the cute goes undiscussed here), Burke dismisses matter-of-factly as remote from beauty. In the 21st century these are no longer animals to be dismissed as beastly or great, they have been tamed and put in zoos. Rather than harry us in the wild, their very existence depends on our charity. Sympathy and affection can therefore reduce the great to something pathetically beautiful.

  • Liza
    2019-04-04 06:25

    From 'Of the Passions Which Belong to Society'The passions belonging to the preservation of the individual turn wholly on pain and danger: those which belong to generation have their origin in gratifications and pleasures; the pleasure most directly belonging to this purpose is of a lively character, rapturous and violent, and confessedly the highest pleasure of sense; yet the absence of this so great an enjoyment scarce amounts to an uneasiness; and, except at particular times, I do not think it affects at all.From 'Of Beauty'I call beauty a social quality; for where women and men, and not only they, but when other animals give us a sense of joy and pleasure in beholding them, (and there are many that do so,) they inspire us with sentiments of tenderness and affection towards their persons; we like to have them near us, and we enter willingly into a kind of relation with them, unless we should have strong reasons to the contrary.From 'Society and Solitude'Good company, lively conversation, and the endearments of friendship, fill the mind with great pleasure; a temporary solitude, on the other hand, is itself agreeable. This may perhaps prove that we are creatures designed for contemplation as well as action; since solitude as well as society has its pleasures; as from the former observation we may discern, that an entire life of solitude contradicts the purposes of our being, since death itself is scarcely an idea of more terror.From 'Poetry Not Strictly an Imitative Art'Nothing is an imitation further than as it resembles some other thing; and words undoubtedly have no sort of resemblance to the ideas, for which they stand.

  • Todd
    2019-04-06 06:35

    An interesting attempt to find physical causes of the beautiful, the pleasant, the terrifying, and more. While Burke's manner is a bit deductive and broad-brushed, not unlike Plato (with whom Burke generally disagrees except concerning the nature of God), he does allow for caveats and nuance not found in Plato's works. While many modern readers may find they knee-jerk react against what Burke claims most people find beautiful (or pleasant or any of the other characteristics Burke explores), pop culture does indeed reflect that there is at least some uniformity of taste throughout large numbers of people. Therefore, his work in trying to identify the why and the how of this makes for an interesting exercise. Burke is humble about his own knowledge, pointing out that in the event an inquiry should fail to discover truth, "If it does not make us knowing, it may make us modest." (location 159) And it's likely to end this way, "A clear idea is therefore another name for a little idea." (locations 987-988)An annoying feature of this and the rest of the works contained herein is that they frequently don't translate Burke's use of French, Latin, etc., so for those of us not equal to Burke in classical training, their meaning is lost upon us.I actually read this as part of Collected Works of Edmund Burke but Goodread's character limit on reviews prevents me from reviewing it all in one review.

  • John
    2019-04-17 08:36

    Are the literary and visual arts in the midst of a Gothic revival? Twilight in print and on the screen, two Sleeping Beauty films at pretty much the same time, Lemony Snicket and Harry Potter and umpteen other children’s and adult series. And less than a decade ago Damon and Ledger as the Brothers Grimm and I seem to remember a novelist named Rice. But . . .Is it real Gothic or just a pale (and sparkling) imitation?I’m in the slow, savouring, wonderfully dark and delightful process of re-reading Matthew “Monk” Lewis’ exquisitely tortuous The Monk (first published 1796) and I feel compelled to say, no, the modern crop of “Gothic” doesn’t measure up to the originals, Walpole’s Castle of Otranto, Beckford’s Vathek, the inimitable novels of Radcliffe, Shelley’s Frankenstein and that other Shelley’s Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne, Stoker’s Dracula and, the pinnacle of Gothic creation, Lewis’ The Monk.A little book written by a young man two and a half centuries ago has helped me come to realize the two main reasons Modern “Gothic” doesn’t rise to the level of the classics. . . .Read the rest at:

  • Evan
    2019-03-21 02:36

    Though slim and succinct (and thus potentially beautiful, but likely not sublime), Burke's 1757 study re-orients Longinus (and closer contemporaries such as Addison) in a work on aesthetics that strongly anticipates romanticism while still banging its head on some low Enlightenment ceilings. The beautiful arises from love, whereas the sublime arises from terror and astonishment-- that's the quick gloss. Among the low ceilings, Burke's opening essay on the origins of Taste is especially striking in that it purports to be an objective account of subjective preference. Burke's peculiar compromise is that tastes are really nowhere near as divergent as they seem. Given the universality of human perception, the only possible explanation for difference in human taste, argues Burke, is variation in knowledge. If everyone knew the same things, then they would like the same things. Many of Burke's specific observations on what provokes pleasure vs. awe, on the other hand, are astute and compelling. And the description of the Sublime, in particular, is well on its way to being a primer for the Gothic. Not at all what one would expect of the author of a famous anti-revolutionary treatise in 1790, and, by some accounts, the father of the modern Right.

  • Jennifer Nedimyer
    2019-04-13 05:11

    I had to read this book for a Gothic Literature class this semester, and I am surprised with how frequently I quote the ideas I have learned. Burke takes an almost scientific route at relating his ideas, beginning with a statement, then moving forward to provide reasons for his statement and giving the reader plenty of examples as he proves his point. Although this isn't a book I, personally, would have picked off the shelf, I am very pleased that I read it. The new knowledge I have gained through the reading of that book have helped--and, I'm sure, will continue to help--my understanding of what is sublime, what is beautiful, and how each apply to literature. The only thing that could have made this book better for me would be a more modern writing. As it is, Burke is very wordy, and his language is archaic. But some things just can't be helped, right? The pleasure of having read A Philosophical Enquiry far outweighs the pain of the tedious reading, itself.

  • dameolga
    2019-04-15 07:16

    "It was not my design to enter into the criticism of the sublime and beautiful in any art, but to attempt to lay down such principles as may tend to ascertain, to distinguish, and to form a sort of standard for them; which purposes I though might be best affected by an enquiry into the properties of such things in nature as raise love and astonishment in us; and by shewing in what manner they operated to produce these passions."This is basically the whole book. In most instances, I agreed with Burke's analysis of qualities and how they affect the emotions. I could argue with some of his examples, but Burke acknowledges in the beginning that some of his analysis might not be completely accurate. Definitely helpful to read before reading Kant's Critique of Judgment.

  • Meg
    2019-04-10 07:21

    A thought experiment that might feel somewhat dated by today's standards, but holds some delightful insights into things like design, architecture, and language and why/how they cause certain emotional responses. (It's loosely structured, and if it were to appear in today's media, it would probably be either a really nice series of blog posts or an Internet article.) While language may have changed some of the terms for things, the juxtaposition he draws between the beautiful and sublime (or whatever you choose to call those two things) is pretty relevant even today. Especially since the sublime (in my opinion) is so much more revered. Either way, you'll get a good conversation out of it. Very worth the read.

  • Misha
    2019-04-14 06:18

    I think Burke and Freud would be very good friends indeed. If I was not hindered by Burke's negative stance towards women (who are weak, and serve only the purpose of beauty) and animals ( "I have more than once observed in dogs ... that they have writhed their bodeis, and yelped, and howled, as if they had actually felt the blows."), the score would have ranged between 3-4; for his ideas applied to art and literature are doable (although I object to his arguments against proportion as a characteristic of beauty).

  • Josefin
    2019-04-19 02:18

    Liked his writing style, had a difficult time criticising as he took great measurements to 'cover his hide' at every statement. Didn't like the view of women, but that is only what one can expect from a book written 1757. Was pretty sientific considering it being a philosophical work, but I seriously doubt that warm water helps with spasms because of the water's "smoothness". Plenty of repetition concluding previous chapters, but it was needed as I dozed off a couple of times. You should consider just reading the conclusive parts...

  • Maja
    2019-04-17 03:13

    As an avid reader of the Gothic and horror fiction in general, I thoroughly enjoyed this philosophical insight into why we like terror the way we do. Burke's Inquiry logically explains the difference between the Sublime and Beautiful and the effect these have on the mind, and thus helps us understand better why we take pleasure in literature and other arts. There were some parts of the work which were highly repetitive, especially in Part IV - On Beauty, however, it gets 5* since it is highly applicable, not only on horror fiction, but also on all other genres of literature.

  • Greg
    2019-04-08 07:13

    On the one hand, this is an important book in that it put Edmund Burke on the map as a cogent thinker and good writer in his day. On the other, it is bad philosophy, since his basis for defining what are beautiful and sublime is materialistic science (anatomy and physiology) that was new and didn't know what it didn't know, and an emergent behaviorist psychology. The primary value of the book is as an historical relic in the history of aesthetics.