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Edmund Burke on the sublime

2 minutes

What separates the beautiful from the sublime?

Beautiful things might amaze and rouse us, but the sublime affects us in a more profound way. It’s overwhelming, even frightening, and can leave us with a deep and lasting sense of wonder. But why do potential dangers, such as a foreboding storm on the horizon or the view from the edge of a cliff, exhilarate the human mind? The 18th-century philosopher and writer Edmund Burke thought that the sublime involves the possibility of pain, which triggers feelings of self-preservation – a visceral response that moves from the body to the mind.

Video by BBC Radio 4

Script: Nigel Warburton

Animation: Andrew Park

Support Aeon

Ideas can change the world

Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview.

But we can’t do it without you.

Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview. Our mission is to create a sanctuary online for serious thinking.

No ads, no paywall, no clickbait – just thought-provoking ideas from the world’s leading thinkers, free to all. But we can’t do it without you.

Become a Friend for $5 a month or Make a one-off donation

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