Norwegian Kant Society: Helen Haav

The Norwegian Kant Society welcomes you to the presentation “Misplaced Respect: Kant on Subreption and the Status of the Sublime” by Helen Haav. 

Abstract: Judgments about the sublime are treated as a type of aesthetic reflective judgments in the Critique of Judgment and as such, they share a number of characteristic features with judgments about the beautiful. However, these formal and structural similarities also serve to conceal some important differences between the two kinds of aesthetic judgments.

Perhaps the most important distinctive feature of the sublime, from which all else follows, is the differentiation between the “proper” and “improper” sense of the sublime. According to Kant, true sublime is always located only in the mind of the judging subject and not in any natural object, whereas we can correctly call many natural objects beautiful.

Ostensibly, Kant seems to explain this distinction by referring to the representation of formlessness and contrapurposiveness that comes with the experience of the sublime. However, this alone does not suffice to justify the peculiar status of sublimity, compared to that of beauty.

I argue that the reason why we can speak of a proper and improper sense of the sublime lies in the peculiar nature of the feeling of the sublime – respect – and the mechanism by which this respect is accorded to an object of nature.

Kant terms this feature of the sublime “subreption”. Respect can only ever be directed to ourselves, our moral consciousness or the idea of humanity, but by a certain subreption we come to feel respect for the natural object instead. Although subreption is a kind of a fallacy, it serves an essential and legitimate role in the experience of the sublime.

Much literature has been devoted to the moral dimension of the sublime. This raises the question of the status of the sublime in relation to morality, considering that the proper object of the feeling of the sublime turns out to be our own self and moral vocation.

Here, too, a difference from beauty becomes evident. I argue that although judgments of the sublime are treated as free aesthetic judgments, the relation between the sublime and morality is too strong for the sublime to serve as a symbol of morality alongside the beautiful.


Helen Haav is a guest researcher at IFIKK.

Published Apr. 21, 2016 4:44 PM - Last modified Apr. 21, 2016 4:44 PM