The sublime has been mediated by philosophers for centuries. Loginus, a first-century Greek philosopher, associated the sublime with the power of rhetoric and elevated language as a means of inspiring awe.
However, the sublime as an aesthetic concept and how it differs from beauty was not brought into prominence until the eighteenth century. British philosopher Edmund Burke claimed, "Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger, that is to say, whatever is any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects or operates in a manner analogous to terror is a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling1." Burke theorized beauty in small, delicate and graceful objects, while he related the sublime to ideas of vastness, difficulty, privation, infinity, magnitude, and magnificence.
Burke's contemporary, German philosopher Immanuel Kant believed the sublime to be a mental state caused by our inability to understand the limitlessness of an object or situation that is absolutely great. Furthermore, Kant clearly differentiated the aesthetic ideas of beauty and of the sublime believing, "The beautiful in nature is a question of the form of an object, and this consists in limitation, whereas the sublime is to be found in an object even devoid of form, so far as it immediately involves, or else by its presence provokes, a representation of limitlessness, yet with a super-added thought of its totality."2
More recently, Christine Oravec has theorized a shift in the sublime from an understanding associated with fear to that of "exaltation" where an individual experience a series of stages. First, after exposure to the sublime object one gains "sensations of overwhelming magnitude and quality." Next, one's inability "to comprehend intellectually and emotionally the sublimity of the natural object" leads to a negative state of where one "feels a separation from, or lack of control of, the natural environment." The final stage is composed of "a sensation of exaltation, or at least wonder, at the relative grandeur of the object compared to the self3."