The theological sublime: Subjectivity, temporality and imagination in the Kantian critique

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Charles E. Winquist


Imagination, Subjectivity, Sublime, Temporality, Theological

Subject Categories



This dissertation develops a theological reading of Kant, by reading the Critique of Judgment back into the Critique of Pure Reason, in the context of contemporary continental philosophers such as Martin Heidegger, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze. Specifically, the Kantian understanding of the First Critique breaks down in the Schematism of the Pure Concepts of the Understanding, but this does not become explicit until the Analytic of the Sublime of the Third Critique. The interpretations of Kant by Heidegger and Lyotard are explicated in order to provide a context for an original reading of the core of the Kantian critical project. Kant's notions of subjectivity, temporality, and imagination are interwoven in the analytic of the Critique of Pure Reason, and their confluence points to a negative power of imagination which disrupts the determinate working of the understanding. In the Critique of Judgment, the power of imagination to apprehend to infinity outstrips the ability of understanding to comprehend the sublime, creating an abyss which reason must step in to control and contain.

The insights into the Kantian sublime are then related to the schematism, or the transcendental imagination, which is an act or process of knowing which cannot be fully represented by the conceptual understanding. This Kantian wounding of understanding is an epistemological wound, which fissures objective knowledge even of the realm of phenomena. Furthermore, using the theology of Paul Tillich, the force of Kant's philosophical insights are interpreted theologically, that is, in terms of formal conditions of human "ultimate concern." These insights are then used in contributing towards a theology of the sublime, which consists of a formal interrogation and unsettling disorientation of concepts, rather than a determinate understanding of the contents of given theological frameworks.


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