5. The Sublimity of a Boundless, Formless Universe

            We are now in a position to appreciate how a boundless, formless universe can be regarded as a source of aesthetic pleasure through Kant’s notion of the mathematical sublime. For Kant, the image of a boundless, formless universe cannot be regarded as something beautiful: it is not a self-enclosed entity that we can grasp in our intuition and allows the imagination and the understanding to stand in a harmonious relationship with one another. When we imagine the boundless expanse of the universe, there is no discernible shape in space or time for us to aesthetically comprehend. And yet, it is a source of aesthetic pleasure for us, because our failure to grasp this boundless expanse of the universe in our intuition makes us become aware of the supersensible faculty of our reason. In failing to grasp the proportions of the universe aesthetically, we become aware of our ability to grasp the size of an object through mathematical reasoning. In failing to visualize the universe as a self-enclosed entity, we become aware of our ability to posit an idea of totality that transcends the limits of our imagination. The boundless, formless expanse of the universe makes us aware of our capacity to make that which is aesthetically incomprehensible at least intellectual apprehensible before our mind. The pleasure that we get from this awareness is what Kant calls the feeling of the sublime and because it is our image of the universe which has brought about this feeling of the sublime, the universe can rightly regarded as something aesthetically pleasing.

Thus the universe, in its unimaginable immensity, is a source of aesthetic pleasure for us. Its boundless and formless expanse may be beyond the grasp of our aesthetic comprehension; nevertheless, when we contemplate this formless and boundless expanse, we are able to apprehend it intellectually. The unimaginable magnitude of the universe’s dimensions elevates us from the limits of our sensible cognition to the unlimited realm of reason, where we find ourselves in a state of awe, respect, and wonder. But it is not towards the universe that we direct this feeling of awe, respect and wonder – it is towards ourselves and the seemingly infinite powers of reason.



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