SublimAE seminar

Children’s experience of the sublime : a pivotal model of its features and markers

Francesca D’Alessandris (Università degli Studi di Modena e Reggio Emilia)
Practical information
06 March 2023

ENS, Pavillon Jardin, meeting room, 29 rue d'Ulm, 75005 Paris


Is it possible that children experience something we could judge as the sublime ? Are they provided with the abilities necessary in adults for it ? Could we empirically isolate the relevant aesthetic components distinguishing the sublime from other experiences in children ? Some pivotal conjectures have been elicited to positively answer these questions ; however, this general topic still stands in need of fuller theoretical and empirical insights. My contribution intends to start filling this gap by drawing a philosophical and empirically tractable account of this aesthetic experience in 8-10 years old children. The main aim of this contribution is to propose that indeed children have all the necessary abilities to experience the sublime. Specifically, my purpose is to give a philosophical account of the experience of the sublime in children by identifying on the one hand its plausible components, and on the other hand its markers for future empirical inquiries. Since the sublime itself has positive outcomes in adults, such as pro-social behavior and enhancement of well-being and curiosity, it could be beneficial for children as well. Taking up this challenge may have important implications in the ever-growing field of aesthetic education.

To support my hypothesis, I provide a general definition of the sublime in adults based on modern and contemporary philosophical sources. I then suggest that the same model can be used in children, based a) on the analogy between the sublime in philosophy and the experience of awe studied in psychology b) on pivotal psychology research on awe in children. As a second step, I argue for the possibility that children possess the ability to experience the sublime as a metacognitive aesthetic process involving both positive and negative emotions. Then, I surmise that these arguments can be empirically tested by analyzing time perception as a proxy for aesthetic experiences which we could associate with the sublime. I do this a) by drawing on philosophical theories and empirical psychology research findings that approach-motivating emotion affects time perception b) based on the argument that the sublime can be put under the category of approach-motivating emotional experience.

As a main conclusion, I argue that we can predict children’s time perception to hasten during the experience of the sublime and I suggest some methodologies to verify this in practice

SublimAE (the Sublime and Aesthetic Experiences) seminar, in connection with SublimAE ANR project, will focus on the interdisciplinary study of Aesthetic Experiences with an eye to the sublime by bringing together philosophy, psychology, and social sciences. We will explore, on the one hand, how the experience of the sublime connects to other similar or contrast experiences (the beautiful, terrible beauty, awe, wonder, the uncanny, …), and, on the other hand, the impact these experiences, and more specifically aesthetic ones, have on our representation of the self. The seminar will feature presentations by members of the project, as well as by invited speakers.

Venue : Institut Jean Nicod meeting room

Contact : Margherita ArcangeliJérôme Dokic

For the full programme click here.