CE27 - Culture, créations, patrimoine

The Sublime and Aesthetic Experiences – SublimAE

Submission summary

SublimAE (“Sublime and Aesthetic Experiences”) is an interdisciplinary research project, involving philosophers, psychologists, social scientists and artists, and aiming at the development of a new cognitive account of experiences of the sublime and its close emotional relative, namely awe. The project should throw light on the relationship between the category of the sublime, aesthetic experiences, and self-awareness, by tightly integrating philosophical analysis and empirical hypothesizing and testing.
The notion of the sublime has roots in ancient rhetoric, but it emerges in the 18th century as a central category of aesthetic experience, typically contrasted with the aesthetic experience of the beautiful. While the latter experience is mainly positive and pleasurable, the former experience is characterised by ambivalent feelings. On the one hand, the sublime involves an overwhelming vastness, or power, which disturbs and unsettles. On the other hand, the sublime poses a challenge, which is enlightening and elating. The overall experience of the sublime is also frequently associated with the feeling of the insignificance of human life, of our smallness compared to the grandeur we are confronted with.
Our main philosophical hypothesis, which we construe as testable, is that the sublime gives rise to an aesthetic experience that, contrary to the experience of the beautiful, involves a diminished sense of the self. We intend to clarify this hypothesis by putting forward a notion of experiential immersion that we think is specific to sublimity experiences. The sublime overwhelms us in a way which blurs the boundary between oneself and the world. Sublimity experiences are immersive in the sense that the self tends to disappear from the subject’s experiential field while her attention is fully captured by the sublime entities or scenes. Since self-awareness is known to involve several levels of representation, the minimal self and the narrative self being two prominent examples, a crucial part of our enquiry will be to determine which levels are involved and in what ways. This will allow us to differentiate sublimity experiences from other experiences involving immersion or “ego-dissolution”, such as the oceanic feeling.
SublimAE pursues three main lines of investigations, which all have both theoretical and empirical dimensions. First, we will create new experimental materials, starting from what has been defined as a core elicitor of sublimity experiences, namely vastness. The main challenge here is to go beyond classical experimental approaches to the sublime, which have often relied on impoverished visual materials, and introduce VR and music as two sources of more realistic sublime stimuli. Second, we will use the created (visual and/or auditory) stimuli to capture relevant differences between sublimity experiences and other, opposed or similar aesthetic experiences, such as prettiness or terrible beauty. Finally, we will test the impact of the experience of the sublime on self-awareness, and assess the hypothesis that this experience involves a diminished sense of the self, using embodiment, agentivity and episodicity tasks.

Project coordinator

Monsieur Jérôme Dokic (Institut Jean-Nicod)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


IJN Institut Jean-Nicod
CRAL - UMR8566 Centre de recherche sur les arts et le langage

Help of the ANR 371,557 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: September 2018 - 36 Months

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