The work by the philosopher Edmund Burke, A Philosophic Inquiry on the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, departs from the consideration of the taste as the base of delighting of the beautiful and the sublime and as a propellant force of the sensations of pain and pleasure. It also departs from the principle that the confusion in the tastes may generate deviations in such delighting, which represent products of messy organs and adulterated taste.
The beautiful is “a social quality because everytime we contemplate women and men […] we’re taken by feelings of tenderness and affection by their persons, we like to have them by our side and start a kind of intimacy with them. […]”. In part 3, Burke also states that “The beautiful is that quality, or those qualities, of the bodies due to which they incite love or some similar passion”.
As for the sublime, it’s actually terror that invokes its bases. The ocean, for instance, is an object of a great terror, which is the primordial principle of the sublime. In several languages, expressions of one kind or another relating to the sublime appear with similar values: frightening, admiration, terror; fear; terrible, venerable; worshiping, fearing; astonishment, astonishing, etc.
As far as a comparison between the two forces is concerned, the sublime objects have much large dimensions and the beautiful ones are comparatively little; the beautiful must be flat and polished; sublimity must be rough and rustic; the beautiful must prevent the straight line in an imperceptible manner; the magnificent matches the straight line; obscurity is not beautiful; shadows and darkness are friends with sublimity. The beautiful is founded in pleasure; sublimity – in pain.
Then the author addresses the correlation between smallness and the beautiful. A species has a great power of the beautiful when its qualities are gatherd in a small object. The smallness, simply as such, is not absolutely contrary to the idea of the beautiful. “The hummingbird, as in its form and its colors, is not overcome by any other example the flying species, from which it’s the smaller one and perhaps its beauty is even stressed by its smallness”
At last, in this always current work, Edmund Burke focuses the fact that poetry is not an imitative art as the others. The descriptive poetry doesn’t imitate, but substitutes reality. Theres no imitation, and the words have no similarity with the ideas they symbolize.
[In: Burke, Edmund. Uma investigação filosófica sobre a origem do sublime e do belo. Translation Enid Abreu Dobránszky – Campinas, SP: Papirus Editora da Universidade de Campinas, 1993. 184 p.]