عنوان مقاله [English]
(Sailing to) Byzantium: the Kantian Sublime
Aestheticians and moralphilosophers alike are inclined to the view that there is no particular!J beneficial effect on moral life ofa developed aesthetic sensibility. The usual supporting witness is the pitiless Nazi SS officer with a refined tastefor Mozart and torture. But though his testimony can hard!J be gainsaid, there is an unnoticed and unwarranted narro1ving of the scope ofaesthetic sensibiliry implicit in the very production ofsuch a witness. In a word, aesthetic sensibiliry is reduced to a matter of iabat Kant called taste, wbicb, for him, iuas a matter ofjudgments ofthe beautiful, whether in art or nature. What is neglected is the parallel Kantian notion of the sublime. Kant charges those who remain unciffected by the sublime not with a want oftaste but a want of feeling,, and he makes it clear that if we are to be moved by the sublime we must already be furnished with moral ideas. In that case, our question should not be tuhetber there is a beneficial effect on moral life ofa developed aesthetic sensibility, but whether moral life can have an ciffect on aesthetic sensibiliry. But before ne can address such questions we need to examine Kant's conception of sublimiry, which appears to connect it, not just to the moral life andpoetry but also to religion, in such a wqy that we mqy come to the conclusion that the relationship between moral life and aesthetic sensibiliry is reciprocal, in the sense that whereas we mqy need to befurnished with moral ideas to be moved by the sublime, this andpoetry (or the arts more general!Y), turn out to be a means ofextending our conception ofwhat constitutes moral life. I make no attempt in whatfolloivs to offer a systema tic account ofwhat Kant writes about sublimiry, ideas and art in the third Critique, and nor do I attempt to show af!)' general cultural influence on the poet whose work I appeal to from time to time, W:B. Yeats. It is rather that I have been both moved and perplexed l?J Kant's account of aesthetic ideas over a number ofyears1 and though I have written about these issues elsewhere, (McGhee1 2000) further reading shows me the inadequacy of my previous understanding. Over the same number of years, and indeed for much longer, I have also been moved and perplexed ry the greatpoems of Yeats's The Tower and The Winding Stair, and I have sometimes thought that the poet and the philosopher can shed light on the meaning ofeach other's work.