Michael Braverman portfolio / personal site

Schiller - On Aesthetic Eduction of Man


The whole burden of the argument in these Letters is, in a single sentence, that Man must pass through the aesthetic condition, from the merely physical, in order to reach the rational or moral.

“Sensuous Man, then, must become aesthetic Man before he can be moral Man”

The problem that seems to lies in the dispute between Schiller and Goethe, where the former favored Kantian moral philosophy and the later did not, was in the causation chain such as the following formula:

A caused B, and B caused C

In such case, it can be said that A is the a priori of C and therefore human moral action (B), becomes contingent on determinism and alien causes determining it.

Kant thought that the only way to resolve this apparent conflict is to distinguish between phenomena, which is what we know through experience, and noumena.1

Noumena (nous - knowledge in Latin), is the ticket out of this determinism since it allows B to be independent from all the alien causes determining it. This noumena therefore forms the basis of the Kant’s categorical imperative.

Letter 2

Art should be timeless, and not be entirely contingent on the current state of history. As Schiller states ‘a man to cut himself off from the customs and manners of the circle in which he lives’.[^Letter 2] And he further elaborates

The course of events has given a direction to the spirit of the age which threatens to remove it even further from the Art of the Ideal.[^Letter 2]

It is interesting how Schiller’s last sentence in which he states that ‘it is through Beauty that we arrive at Freedom’. But it ends on a political note where he wants to remind the reader how ‘the principles by which Reason is in general guided in political legislation and therefore also the notion of freedom.[^Letter 2, Last sentence] This is interesting because Schiller was living at politically unstable time, where perhaps, the notion of Freedom was be miscued.

Its almost as if he was writing this to us right now, at this age, where the notion of Freedom is miscued, potentially because people have miscued the notion of Beauty.

Letter 3

Man is not only able to manifest what was given to him by nature, but to manifest a ‘contract’ that is a product of his rationality. As he then says, the causation of Nature, or these “blind forces” possess “no authority before which Freedom need bow, and everything must yield to the highest ultimate aim which Reason sets up in his personality.” This therefore transforms the human “natural State into a moral one”.

Since the “natural character of Man” is selfish and violent that aims for destruction, a rational force of counteraction is necessary.

Letter 4

But I does not necessarily mean that the “natural character of Man” must be curbed. Man drives to a moral state by learning through his “natural character”. And it is the individual himself who possesses that means by which he can arrive to a moral state. In some ways, the moral imperative is never outside, but within. As he states:

“Every individual man, it may be said, carries in disposition and determination a pure ideal man within himself, with whose unalterable unity it is the great task of his existence, throughout all his vicissitudes, to harmonize”

And this is is in contradiction because this moral ideal

Is represented by the State, the objective and, so to say, canonical form in which the diversity of persons endeavours to unite itself.

To resolve this tension, the state must either ignore the individual, or the individual must become the state. The resolution is necessary because “Reason indeed demands unity, but Nature demands multiplicity, and both systems of legislation lay claim to Man’s obedience.” And in regards to how the State must impose the unified morality of a man: “political constitution will still be very imperfect if it is able to produce unity only by suppressing variety.” But even here it is remember that even in a state of liberated variety, the sensuous Man must also become an aesthetic Man before he can be a moral Man.

The savage despises Art and recognizes Nature as his sovereign mistress; the barbarian derides and dishonours Nature, but—more contemptible than the savage—he continues frequently enough to become the slave of his slave. The cultured man makes a friend of Nature and respects her freedom while merely curbing her caprice.

But it is unclear what he mean by this sentence:

Totality of character must therefore be found in a people that is capable and worthy of exchanging the State of need for the State of freedom.

Letter 6

It also resembles any people at all that is in process of civilization, since all without distinction must fall away from Nature through over-subtlety of intellect before they can return to her through Reason.

Here Schiller refers to the Greeks and mentioned a few things that are comparable to Nietzsche’s Birth of Tradegy such as the successful unification of “youthfulness” and the “manliness of reason”. Schiller praises the simplicity of Greek art where “Poetry had not yet courted wit, and speculation had not prostituted itself by sophistry”.

This passage seems to be very much similar to Nietzsche’s allusion to the death of God, and “degenerating” culture:

With us too the image of the race is scattered on an amplified scale among individuals—but in a fragmentary way, not in different combinations, so that you have to go the rounds from individual to individual in order to gather the totality of the race.

Schiller also mentions dissociation of “essential bond” of the human Nature into ranks and occupations that tear apart the “harmonious powers”. This is comparable to how today the elite class favors a form of art that is different from the one that most people favor. An he certainly alludes to what later would be defined by Hegel and Nietzche as the master-slave relations: “we have handed ourselves over to a master who is not infrequently inclined to end up by suppressing the rest of our capacities.”

He also describes what can be seen a vast form of beurocratisation of the human:

in which out of the botching together of a vast number of lifeless parts a collective mechanical life results. State and Church, law and customs, were now torn asunder; enjoyment was separated from labour, means from ends, effort from reward.

Letter 8

“Art, like Science, is free from everything that is positive or established by human conventions, and both of them rejoice in an absolute immunity from human lawlessness. The political legislator can enclose their territory, but he cannot govern within it”

  1. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-moral/#AimMetMor