Melissa McBay Merritt is a philosopher whose works mainly concern Kant’s philosophy, history of ethics, and modern impact on society. She examines how moral rationalism can be implemented in contemporary ethics and what effect Kant’s legacy caused in the structure of today’s morality and the human mind. This essay considers the present understanding of Kant’s sublime experience together with the relation of the notion of self-conceit to it, according to Melissa Merritt.
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The importance of self-conceit can be arguable in consideration of ethics. According to Merritt, Kant regards this concept as ‘self-love’ and pays significant attention to it (The Sublime 14). It is not considered to be immoral; on the contrary, the achievement of its satisfaction as long as the moral laws are not defied is ethically plausible. In such a way, self-assurance is acceptable under the Kantian philosophy.
There are many thoughts and perspectives on the definition of sublime for Kant, where some of them support Merritt’s interpretation, while others believe that there are particular concepts omitted. Overall, Merritt highlights that the sublime is not from nature, and not sensible either; rather, it could be the human mind in the Kantian view (The Sublime 19). There is no exact description of the state of mind that could be accounted for the discussed concept.
Generally speaking, Kantian philosophy is based on the categorical imperative. It states that the action can be considered moral and feasible if it respects humanity’s interests and does not violate the commonly accepted ethics (Merritt, The Sublime 30). In other words, the performance that everybody would follow following the principles of universal law is recognized right. The latter is the rules that everybody obeys and holds without questioning.
The notion of freedom for Kant is intimately interconnected with morality and its laws. The individual has freedom of will and is responsible for the actions they took, perform, or do in the future (Merritt, “Nature, Corruption, and Freedom” 5). This way, the concept of freedom is linked to the scope of ethics. Hence, self-conception and consideration of the consequences of one’s actions define freedom of the will, sovereignty, and its borders.
There is a special place for reason in Kantian theory. Taking into account the fact that sublime is the state of mind, reason is an indispensable part of self-cognition and exists as a moral constituent of rational animals (Merritt, “Practical Reason and Respect for Persons” 62). It is the notion that forces the human mind to act in a way that is ethically acceptable for society. As a result, reason plays a significant role in Kant’s philosophy and sublime experience.
Discussed concepts and notions are unified to create Kant’s sublime experience and aesthetics. According to Merritt, readers need to connect the original ideas to understand the aesthetic experience for Kant (The Sublime 59). Self in regards to the theory of sublime is the crucial point to an understanding of its nature. Reason and freedom together help the mind perform actions under categorical imperative, which in turn comprises self-conceit. Finally, the aesthetic experience comes from admiration and respect for the mind.
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To conclude, Merritt has provided a comprehensive understanding of the sublime experience for Kant. Self-conceit is the part of the human mind, and if the moral values and categorical imperative is obeyed can be ethical. This way, Merritt connects self-consideration to the understanding of Kant’s sublime experience through the connotations of freedom, reason, and morality. It means that self-awareness, which is paid attention to today, is closely connected to Kantian philosophy’s sublimity.
Merritt, Melissa. “Nature, Corruption, and Freedom: Stoic Ethics in Kant’s Religion.” European Journal of Philosophy, 2020, pp. 1-34.
“Practical Reason and Respect for Persons.” Kantian Review, vol. 22, no. 1, 2017, pp. 53–79.
The Sublime. Cambridge University Press, 2018.