Emily Brady’s The Sublime in Modern Philosophy: Aesthetics, Ethics, and Nature published by Cambridge University Press in 2013, explores the meaning of the concept of the sublime and its implications for metaphysics, aesthetics, ethics, and the environment. An historical discussion is provided in the first part of the book, providing a historical survey with a careful reading which begins in the eighteenth century with a special focus on Kant, and followed by Romanticism and John Muir’s wilderness aesthetic. The second part of the book shows the relevance of the concept to contemporary discussions in philosophy such as aesthetics and the arts, and environmental ethics. A full review of this book, by Sandra Shapshay, can be found at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.
A member of the Society and Space board, Brady is the author of Aesthetics of the Natural Environment (Edinburgh 2003), the co-author of Environment and Philosophy (Routledge 2000) and the co-editor of Aesthetic Concepts: Essays after Sibley (Oxford 2001), Humans in the Land: The Ethics and Aesthetics of the Cultural Landscape (Oslo Academic Press 2008), and Human-Environment Relations: Transformative Values in Theory and Practice (Springer 2012). She has published numerous articles and book chapters mostly around the topics of aesthetics, ethics, and the environment. Some of her most recent publications include “Imagination and Freedom in the Kantian Sublime” (2013), “Aesthetic Value and Wild Animals” (2014), and “Aesthetic Value, Ethics and Climate Change” (forthcoming 2014). Brady is Professor of Environment and Philosophy at the Institute of Geography and the Lived Environment and an Academic Associate in Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. This interview was conducted by Vahid Jafarzadehdarzi, a doctoral student in philosophy at Memorial University of Newfoundland.
Vahid Jafarzadehdarzi: Thank you, Professor Brady for doing this interview; it was a pleasure reading your book. You spend a great a deal of time on Kant’s approach to the sublime. You appreciate the way he relates nature, aesthetics, and morality in his view of the concept, and there finds a connection between the self and nature. Why is his view so important in understanding the core meaning of the sublime as you say? What does he do with the eighteenth century reading of the concept?
Emily Brady: Thank you. As I see it, it’s important to reassess Kant’s theory of the sublime – for Kant scholarship as well as for a proper understanding of the history of the sublime and its relevance today. Many interpretations of Kant’s theory argue for a human-centred sublime, where humans appear to recognize their power over nature through an experience of their own freedom or autonomy. I contest this reading of the sublime as self-admiration and show that for Kant, our distinctive positioning with respect to the rest of nature reveals a deep connection to it, as something metaphysically and actually greater than ourselves. There are two other reasons why his theory is especially significant. Kant focuses largely on nature widely understood – human and non-human nature. The overall argument of the book is that the historical and contemporary sublime is largely associated with natural environments. Also, his theory is, arguably, more philosophically rich and sophisticated compared to other early theories of the sublime.
Often, when people discuss Kant’s theory they neglect the many discussions of the sublime that preceded his own. Eighteenth-century aesthetics in Britain is especially interesting and one can see a range of influences on Kant. Once we get a handle on them, interestingly, Kant’s theory appears less original, though insightful enough!