Sublime Understanding

From Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought

Sublime Understanding

Aesthetic Reflection in Kant and Hegel

By Kirk Pillow





The topic of the sublime is making a return to contemporary discourse on aesthetics and cognition. In Sublime Understanding, Kirk Pillow makes sublimity the center of an alternative conception of aesthetic response and interpretation. He draws an aesthetics of sublimity from Kant's Critique of Judgment, bolsters it with help from Hegel, and establishes its place in a broadened conception of human understanding (thus differing from the many scholars who use Hegel to dismiss Kant or vice versa). He argues that sublime reflection provides a model for an interpretive response to the uncanny Other outside our conceptual grasp; it advances our sense-making pursuits but eschews unified, conceptual determination. Thus "sublime understanding" is the always partial, indeterminate grasping of contextual wholes through which we make sense of the uncanny particular in both art and the lived world. The book is divided into three parts. In the first two parts, Pillow presents insightful reinterpretations of Kant's and Hegel's aesthetics. In the third part he develops his own model of an aestheticized understanding, which illuminates contemporary discussions of metaphor and interpretation, while bridging Anglo-American and continental treatments of these issues. The presentation is a model of clear and well-crafted exposition, exemplifying the practice of aesthetically reflective sublime understanding that it articulates.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262161923 385 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


$25.00 X ISBN: 9780262661362 385 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


  • Pillow is very effective in relating the aesthetics of Kant and Hegel to contemporary philsophical concerns. His approach is balanced and intelligent and will have a wide appeal to readers in aesthetics, literary theory, and postmodernism.

    Rudolf A. Makkreel

    Charles Howard Chandler Professor and Chair of Philosophy, Emory University

  • This book develops creative interpretations of Kant and Hegel on the cognitive status of aesthetic experience and judgment, relates these interpretations to contemporary positions on aesthetic cognition, and brings out of it all a subtle, precise, and disciplined position on the most challenging issues in aesthetic theory: (1) the relation between artist's intention, the meaning of the art work, and audience response; (2) the tension between normative judgments and openness to different interpretations; (3) the role of social context in what a work of art means and how it is judged. In every respect, Kirk Pillow's work aspires to and meets very high standards.

    Ardis B. Collins

    Loyola University Chicago, and Editor, The Owl of Minerva

  • Sublime Understanding is one of the most useful books on Kant's aesthetics to have appeared in a decade, and the most fruitful juxtaposition of Kantian and Hegelian aesthetics to have appeared in a generation. Pillow's account of sublime understanding is a valuable corrective to the postmodernist misinterpretation of the Kantian sublime as a symbol of the unintelligibility of human experience. His work will undoubtedly engender lively debate from both traditionalists and postmodernists.

    Paul Guyer

    Murray Professor in the Humanities, University of Pennsylvania