I used the term ‘beautiful’ in my second assignment and was encouraged by my tutor to look into the meaning of sublime and beautiful by reading about what Kant says. His book Critique of Judgement contains his thoughts on the topic and is available as an ebook from gutenberg.org.
In summary, Kant says beauty is in the eye of the beholder. While, we might describe something as beautiful, it has no intrinsic beauty, it is only what each of us perceives subjectively as beautiful. He draws a distinction between this and a priori judgements that are based on logic or reasoning and therefore, can be argued to be universal, rather than based on personal taste, ‘(aesthetically by the medium of the feeling of pleasure)’.
Kant also states that ‘everyone must admit that a judgement about beauty, in which the least interest mingles, is very partial and not a pure judgement of taste’. It is difficult to disagree with this and it seems that ‘beauty’ as a useful descriptor is best left for colloquial use.
Kant discusses the use of the word ‘sublime’ as holding the characteristic of perfection with reference to the subjective measures of beauty. Therefore, the only real distinction between the sublime and the beautiful is that the sublime is unlikely to be consider the same thing by different individuals. He illustrates this that while there might be some general agreement of what characteristics of beautify are desirable in nature, there is unlikely to be agreement over the absolutely required characteristics.
The lesson here seems to be avoid the word ‘beauty’ if one wants to convey a meaningful description.
Kant I (1892). Critique of Judgement [ebook]. Second edition (1914) , McMillan and Co, London. Available from: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/48433 [accessed 15.5.15]