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On Edmund Burke's "A Philosophical Enquiry ..." [1757]
A Seminar Handout

Section Index

  1. Sections
  2. Quotes from the Text
  3. Questions
  4. Bibliography

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  Subseq. Pages - Essays & Papers  

1. Sections:
"A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful"

  1. Of the passion caused by the Sublime
  2. Terror
  3. Obscurity
  4. Of the Difference between Clearness and Obscurity with regard to the passions
  5. Power
  6. Privation
  7. Vastness
  8. Infinity
  9. Succession and Uniformity
  10. Magnitude in Building
  11. Infinity in pleasing Objects
  12. Difficulty
  13. Magnificence
  14. Light
  15. Light in Building
  16. Colour considered as productive of the Sublime
  17. Sound and Loudness
  18. Suddenness
  19. Intermitting
  20. The cries of Animals
  21. Smell and Taste. Bitters and Stenches
  22. Feeling Pain

2. Quotes from the Text:

  1. "Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling." [50]

  2. "Astonishment, as I have said, is the effect of the sublime in its highest degree; the inferior effects are admiration, reverence and respect." [53]

  3. "Indeed terror is in all cases whatsoever, either more openly or latently the ruling principle of the sublime." [54]

  4. "To make any thing very terrible, obscurity seems in general to be necessary. When we know the full extent of any danger, when we can accustom our eyes to it, a great deal of the apprehension vanishes." [54]

  5. "And I think there are reasons in nature why the obscure idea, when properly conveyed, should be more affecting than the clear. It is our ignorance of things that causes all our admiration, and chiefly excites our passions. Knowledge and acquaintance make the most striking causes affect but little." [57]

  6. "But let it be considered that hardly any thing can strike the mind with its greatness, which does not make some sort of approach towards infinity; which nothing can do whilst we are able to perceive its bounds; but to see an object distinctly, and to perceive its bounds, is one and the same thing. A clear idea is therefore another name for a little idea." [58]

  7. "And indeed the ideas of pain, and above all of death, are so very affecting, that whilst we remain in the presence of whatever is supposed to have the power of inflicting either, it is impossible to be perfectly free from terror." [59]

  8. "But whilst we contemplate so vast an object, under the arm, as it were, of almighty power, and invested upon every side with omnipresence, we shrink into the minuteness of our own nature, and are, in a manner, annihilated before him." [63]

  9. "Another source of the sublime, is infinity; if it does not rather belong to the last. Infinity has a tendency to fill the mind with that sort of delightful horror, which is the most genuine effect, and truest test of the sublime." [67]

  10. "A true artist should put a generous deceit on the spectators, and effect the noblest designs by easy methods. Designs that are vast only by their dimensions, are always the sign of a common and low imagination. No work of art can be great, but as it deceives; to be otherwise is the prerogative of nature only." [70]

  11. "without a strong impression nothing can be sublime" [73]

  12. "But darkness is more productive of sublime ideas than light." [73]

  13. "opposite extremes operate equally in favour of the sublime, which in all things abhors mediocrity." [74]

  14. "sublimity must be drawn [..] with a strict caution however against any thing light and riant; as nothing so effectually deadens the whole taste of the sublime." [75]

  15. "Whatever either in sights or sounds makes the transition from one extreme to the other easy, causes no terror, and consequently can be no cause of greatness. In every thing sudden and unexpected, we are apt to start; that is, we have a perception of danger, and our nature rouses us to guard against it." [76; Suddenness]

  16. "Things which are terrible are always great; but when things possess disagreeable qualities, or such as have indeed some degree of danger, but of a danger easily overcome, they are mere odious, as toads and spiders." [79, Smell and Taste. Bitters and Stenches]

  17. "the idea of bodily pain, in all the modes and degrees of labour, pain, anguish, torment, is productive of the sublime" [79, Feeling. Pain]

3. Questions:

  • What does Burke define as the Sublime?

  • How does he differentiate between the Sublime and Beauty?

  • How does he see language?

  • What is similar, what is different with regard to Longinus?

  • What about his definition of passion / pathos? (Introd. P. XX)

  • "an odd mixture, revealing [..] the overlap between pain and pleasure" (XXI)

4. Bibliography

Edmund Burke. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757). Ed. Adam Phillips. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998.)

The text on the Internet:

November 10th, 1999

Appendix I: Dictionary entries connected to "passion"

(in the following, long syllables will be underlined ( e ), whereas short syllables will be unmarked. The "schwa" phoneme will be circumscribed by " è ")

pas·sion n. 1. A powerful emotion, such as love, joy, hatred, or anger. 2.a. Ardent love. b. Strong sexual desire; lust. c. The object of such love or desire. 3.a. Boundless enthusiasm: His skills as a player don't quite match his passion for the game. b. The object of such enthusiasm: soccer is her passion. 4. An abandoned display of emotion, especially of anger: He's been known to fly into a passion without warning. 5. Passion.a. The sufferings of Jesus in the period following the Last Supper and including the Crucifixion. b. A narrative, musical setting, or pictorial representation of Jesus's sufferings. 6. Archaic. Martyrdom. 7. Archaic. Passivity. [Middle English, from Old French, from Medieval Latin passio, passion-, sufferings of Jesus or a martyr, from Late Latin, physical suffering, martyrdom, sinful desire, from Latin, an undergoing, from passus, past participle of pati, to suffer. See pe(i)- below.]

SYNONYMS: passion, fervor, fire, zeal, ardor. These nouns all denote powerful, intense emotion. Passion is a deep, overwhelming emotion: "an ardent, generous, perhaps an immoderate passion for fame" (Edmund Burke). "There is not a passion so strongly rooted in the human heart as envy" (Richard Brinsley Sheridan). The term may signify sexual desire but can also refer to anger: "He flew into a violent passion and abused me mercilessly" (H.G. Wells). Fervor is great warmth and intensity of feeling: "The union of the mathematician with the poet, fervor with measure, passion with correctness, this surely is the ideal" (William James). Fire is burning passion: "In our youth our hearts were touched with fire" (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.). Zeal is strong, enthusiastic devotion to a cause, an ideal, or a goal and tireless diligence in its furtherance: "his fervent zeal for the interests of the state" (Macaulay). "We are sometimes stirred by emotion and take it for zeal" (Thomas à Kempis). Ardor is fiery intensity of feeling: "the furious ardor of my zeal repressed" (Charles Churchill). See also Synonyms at feeling.

pa·tient adj. 1. Bearing or enduring pain, difficulty, provocation, or annoyance with calmness. 2. Marked by or exhibiting calm endurance of pain, difficulty, provocation, or annoyance. 3. Tolerant; understanding: an unfailingly patient leader and guide. 4. Persevering; constant: With patient industry, she revived the failing business and made it thrive. 5. Capable of calmly awaiting an outcome or a result; not hasty or impulsive. 6. Capable of bearing or enduring pain, difficulty, provocation, or annoyance: "My uncle Toby was a man patient of injuries" (Laurence Sterne). --pa·tient n. 1. One who receives medical attention, care, or treatment. 2. Archaic. One who suffers. [Middle English pacient, from Old French, from Latin patiens, patient-, present participle of pati, to endure. See pe(i)- below.] --pa'tient·ly adv.

Indo-European Roots:

pe(i)-. Important derivatives are: fiend, passion, passive, patient, compassion.

pe(i)-. Also pe-, pi-. To hurt. Contracted from *peè(i)-. 1. Suffixed (participial) form *pi-ont- (< *piè-ont-). FIEND, from Old English feond, fiond, enemy, devil, from Germanic *fijand-, hating, hostile. 2. Possibly *pe- in suffixed zero-grade *pè-to-. PASSIBLE, PASSION, PASSIVE, PATIENT; COMPASSION, from Latin pati, to suffer. [Pokorny pe(i)- 792.]

(source: American Heritage Dictionary, Third Edition, 1997)

Appendix II: Dictionary entries connected to "pathos"

pa·thos n. 1. A quality, as of an experience or a work of art, that arouses feelings of pity, sympathy, tenderness, or sorrow. 2. The feeling, as of sympathy or pity, so aroused. [Greek, suffering. See kwent(h)- below.]

ap·a·thy n. 1. Lack of interest or concern, especially regarding matters of general importance or appeal; indifference. 2. Lack of emotion or feeling; impassiveness. [Latin apathia, from Greek apatheia, from apathes, without feeling : a-, without; see A-1 + pathos, feeling; see kwent(h)- below.]

sym·pa·thy n., pl. sym·pa·thies. 1.a. A relationship or an affinity between people or things in which whatever affects one correspondingly affects the other. b. Mutual understanding or affection arising from this relationship or affinity. 2.a. The act or power of sharing the feelings of another. b. Often sympathies. A feeling or an expression of pity or sorrow for the distress of another; compassion or commiseration. See Synonyms at pity. 3. Harmonious agreement; accord: He is in sympathy with their beliefs. 4. A feeling of loyalty; allegiance. Often used in the plural: His sympathies lie with his family. 5. Physiology. A relation between parts or organs by which a disease or disorder in one induces an effect in the other. [Latin sympathia, from Greek sumpatheia, from sumpathes, affected by like feelings : sun-, syn- + pathos, emotion; see kwent(h)- below.]

Indo-European Roots:

kwent(h)-. Important derivatives are: pathetic, pathos, sympathy.

kwent(h)-. To suffer. 1. Suffixed form *kwenth-es-. NEPENTHE, from Greek penthos, grief. 2. Zero-grade form *kwnth-. PATHETIC, PATHO-, PATHOS, -PATHY; APATHY, (PATHOGNOMONIC), SYMPATHY, from Greek pathos, suffering, passion, emotion, feelings. [Pokorny kuenth- 641.]

(source: American Heritage Dictionary, Third Edition, 1997)

Appendix III: Dictionary entries for to "sublime", "terror", "horror"

sub·lime adj. 1. Characterized by nobility; majestic. 2.a. Of high spiritual, moral, or intellectual worth. b. Not to be excelled; supreme. 3. Inspiring awe; impressive. 4. Archaic. Raised aloft; set high. 5. Obsolete. Of lofty appearance or bearing; haughty: "not terrible,/That I should fear . . . /But solemn and sublime" (John Milton). --sub·lime n. 1. Something sublime. 2. An ultimate example. --sub·lime v. sub·limed, sub·lim·ing, sub·limes. --tr. 1. To render sublime. 2. Chemistry. To cause to sublimate. --intr. Chemistry. To sublimate. [French, from Old French, sublimated, from Latin sublimis, uplifted.] --sub·lime'ly adv. --sub·lime'ness or sub·lim'i·ty n.

ter·ror n. 1. Intense, overpowering fear. See Synonyms at fear. 2. One that instills intense fear: a rabid dog that became the terror of the neighborhood. 3. The ability to instill intense fear: the terror of jackboots pounding down the street. 4. Violence committed or threatened by a group to intimidate or coerce a population, as for military or political purposes. 5. Informal. An annoying or intolerable pest: that little terror of a child. [Middle English terrour, from Old French terreur, from Latin terror, from terrere, to frighten.]

hor·ror n. 1. An intense, painful feeling of repugnance and fear. See Synonyms at fear. 2. Intense dislike; abhorrence. 3. A cause of horror. 4. Informal. Something unpleasant, ugly, or disagreeable: That hat is a horror. 5. horrors. Informal. Intense nervous depression or anxiety. Often used with the. --attributive. Often used to modify another noun: a horror movie; a horror story. [Middle English horrour, from Old French horreur, from Latin horror, from horrere, to tremble.]

(source: American Heritage Dictionary, Third Edition, 1997)

Appendix IV: Short Biography of Edmund Burke

BURKE, Edmund

(1729-97), British statesman and orator, who championed many human rights causes and brought attention to them through his eloquent speeches.

Burke was born in Dublin and educated at Trinity College. He studied law briefly in London before embarking on a literary career. His first important work was Vindication of Natural Society (1756), a satire ridiculing the reasoning of the British statesman Henry Bolingbroke. This work, published anonymously, attracted considerable attention. Soon afterward he published an essay, The Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas on the Sublime and Beautiful (1756). The following year he began a 30-year association with The Annual Register, a British yearbook.

After 1761, when he became private secretary to the British chief secretary for Ireland, William Hamilton (1729-96), he demonstrated his aptitude for political service. Four years later he became private secretary to the new British prime minister Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2d marquis of Rockingham, and in 1766 Burke was elected as a Whig to Parliament. Almost immediately Burke sought repeal of the Stamp Act. In a pamphlet, Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770), and in two speeches, "On American Taxation" (1774) and "Conciliation with America" (1775), he urged justice and conciliation toward the American colonies. Burke took a deep interest in India and advocated a reversal of the British policy that allowed the East India Co. to exploit the population of that country. On Feb. 15, 1788, Burke began a four-day-long opening speech in Westminster Hall in the unsuccessful impeachment proceedings against the statesman and colonial administrator Warren Hastings for high crimes and misdemeanors committed in India. Although Hastings was acquitted after a trial that lasted seven years, Burke had made the English aware of the oppression in India.

Burke later appeared as the champion of the feudal order in Europe, with the publication of Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). The text, which was read throughout Europe, encouraged European rulers in their hostility to the French Revolution. Burke became more and more vehement in his denunciation of the French Revolution as time went on.

Burke retired from Parliament in 1794, after a career remarkable for its laborious, earnest, and brilliant discharge of duties.

(source: Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia 1995)

November 10th, 1999

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