Sublime (philosophy)

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Grosser Mythen, Swiss Alps. British writers, taking the Grand Tour in the 17th and 18th centuries, first used the sublime to describe objects of nature.

In philosophy, the term sublime refers to something that is great. This greatness can be physical, moral, intellectual, metaphysical, aesthetic, spiritual or artistic. Very often, the term refers to something that is so great that it cannot be calculated, measured or imitated. Special skills are often needed to fully perceive or understand the sublime.

As a category in aesthetics, the main property is that its beauty is bigger than something that is merely beautiful. Sometimes, the sublime may be sacred and causes awe.

It is only western philosophy that makes a distinction between the beautiful and the sublime; there is no such distinction in eastern philosophy.The first known work in philosophy treating the sublime is called On the Sublime, and was written by an otherwise unknown writer who lived in the first or third century. This writer is often called Longinus. Longinus was a teacher of rhetoric, and used the sublime to describe great language in this context. According to Longinus, the sublime inspires awe and veneration, with greater persuasive powers. Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux translated this work into French, in the 16th century; in the 18th century the text was translated into English as well.

Philosophers who wrote about the sublime include Edmund Burke, Immanuel Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Theodor W. Adorno, and Jean-François Lyotard. Writers include Friedrich Schiller and Victor Hugo.