Schiller preoccupies himself with the question of whether or not art can morally improve man. For what it is worth, Schiller believes himself to be a respondent of Kantian aesthetics. Schiller is a strange dude. He is not a philosopher’s philosopher. He wrote a great deal of literature and many professional philosophers (though they would be incorrect in my opinion) consider him to be a dilettante or a minor philosophical figure. We will test that thesis and see what useful ideas precipitate out of this exploration of aesthetic education.
Alright, on with it. “On the Aesthetic Education of Man” is composed of 27 letters. In the first one, Schiller announces he will reveal his findings on art and beauty. He suspects beauty to be deeply intertwined with our happiness and our moral nature, though he will not draw that connection here in the first letter. In this first letter, Schiller wants to say something of his methodology, humbly acknowledge a limitation to his philosophical thinking, communicate the care he has for this project, confess his theoretical commitments, and speculate on how philosophical thinking frequently operates in regards to moral and aesthetic thinking. That’s a lot to cover in 2 pages. Let us go down this list. Schiller alerts us that his endeavor will not be pure theory. He knows that if he is going to effectively account for beauty he must appeal to the feelings within our breast and the concepts within our understanding. Secondly, Schiller brings to our attention that he is not widely schooled in philosophical jargon. Let us hope that he will spare us from as much of it as possible. We shall see if his lack of education on these matters and his practices line up. Thirdly, Schiller is very reverential of this opportunity to freely discuss beauty and plans to cautiously treat his subject matter. He then confesses this exploration is largely based on Kantian principles. Schiller is unclear here, in this first letter, if the principles he is working off of are Kant’s moral principles or aesthetic ones or both. We will only know for certain as we progress. We might have reason to think that he means Kant’s moral principles for he uses Kant’s moral philosophy as an example of the difficulties involved in doing and communicating philosophical work. He claims that if you get rid of all Kant’s technical jargon, then all of humanity will agree with Kant and only the professional philosophy caste will be left to nitpick Kant’s ideas. Schiller is not decrying technical jargon entirely, for he knows that jargon was essential to reveal moral truth to our understanding. This is a fascinating point that Schiller makes about the nature of philosophical inquiry. Philosophical technique and terminology reveals something to our understanding, while simultaneously obscuring it from our inner sense. The philosopher’s understanding must destroy and vivisect appearance, so as to assemble an abstract notion. This is why, Schiller claims, the works of Kant and others cannot be recognized as true by our natural feeling. Understanding this tension in philosophical work, Schiller wants to be very careful so as not to annihilate what we know in our heart to be true about the nature of beauty.
Schiller opens letter 2 with a doubt. Like anyone innovating, he is self-conscious as to whether he is wasting his time. Why spend all this vigor and energy investigating fine art and corresponding aesthetic laws, when the age within which he lives is totally preoccupied with the upbuilding of political freedom? Schiller ponders if anyone will take what must seem like a self-indulgent and extraneously spiritual exercise seriously, when the welfare and legal rights of mankind are hotly being debated at the time of this text’s composition. Schiller does not want to come off as unseemly and blind to political necessity , but how can he carve out a space for aesthetics when it is seems so superfluous to the ends of a just state? The age is obsessed with utility and science. Not beauty. Hmm, ….sounds familiar….Ought he abandon the project all together and merely write something politically practical so as to gain fame amongst philosophers and philistines alike? Schiller will not do this, for he doesn’t think he has to. He reasons that the study of aesthetics is not that alien from political affairs. Via a study of aesthetics, Schiller believes he can show that beauty ushers us into political freedom; however, before he can explicate this connection, Schiller must first remind us of the principles imposed upon reason by the political legislative process.
Schiller muses that nature acts on man just as she does with everything else in creation. She treats him no differently. It is man’s free intelligence that constitutes his humanity and allows him to improve upon what nature has given him, meaning his intelligence can gratify physical needs and then usher him into the realm of morality. Once man awakes from his unconscious sensual condition, which I take to mean once he reaches adulthood, man finds himself within a predetermined political state imposed upon him by natural laws and not the dictates of reason.
This state supposedly solely addresses his physical needs; but because scores of men arise out of sensuous animality to moral being, men are ill-content to let the political status quo prevail. They desire something more from their polity. Man romanticizes a state of nature, that he was never proffered in his experience, and deduces what must be the ultimate aim of the state from said fantasy. He begins with industry to progress towards that aim. All the worship of the currently existing state is paid no mind by those who have rationally conceived of the polity’s ultimate moral end. Schiller calls the natural state a polity whose organization is based on force rather than law. It is opposed to moral man who acts only for the good and out of duty; however, brutish physical man gets along somewhat nicely with the natural state, for it speaks in a language he can understand: force. A big problem with evolving a state, may be that the effort to rationally reform the state in accordance with projected moral humanity, might not match up with the many animalistic brutes still within society, who are content to be externally determined by force. In short, advancing a moral state, may mean that a large segment of the public is unready for it. It is based on a hope and a wish that such troglodytes will be ready one day. Schiller knows that physical subjects aren’t going anywhere as the moral state is being envisioned. He knows a moral state cannot be bestowed upon them if they don’t recognize moral law, so he must find a mechanism to improve physical man for the coming moral state.
This mechanism is not already within man, for physical man is selfish, violent, and ultimately destructive of society. This mechanism isn’t his moral character because his moral character has yet to be formed. Whatever this mechanism is, it is has to make physical man much less capricious and less beholden to his instincts. Schiller also notes here that those already formed moral men need work as well. Why? This seems strange. Haven’t they grasped the truth of life and the state? What work needs to be accomplished on them for the coming state? Schiller thinks moral man or at least the moral side of man is too far removed from the senses and matter. The mechanism has got to connect him to sense again, but why? I’m not sure we are getting a good answer on this right now. We may have to bracket it and come back to it.
Schiller believes the mechanism will create a third type of man that will allow us to transition from mere force to the rule of law. It is clear here that Schiller has effectively outlined the dilemma of advancing a moral political state, when the people are not ready for it given their slavishness to physicality. It is obvious why we need to develop the brutes in a humanitarian fashion. What is not obvious here is why work has to be done on already arrived moral men. Why must they rediscover their sensuous nature to some degree? Hopefully, Schiller will justify or clarify this point in forthcoming chapters.
Schiller is attempting to instill a public character, necessary for the establishment and endurance of the coming moral state. In order, for man to be reliably moral his impulses must be brought in accordance with rationality. The will of man is free and cannot be coerced towards moral ends, how then will we get man to have reliable moral volitions in complex reality? Schiller presupposes that humanity has some good in it. Every human being has more or less the same ideal person within them for which they strive; however, their vices frequently get in the way of achieving that end. Schiller claims that the state is to be the objective ideal representation of this angel within us. He outlines two different routes for bringing temporal man in alignment with ideal man or bringing individuals in alignment with the state
1) ideal man can suppress the empirical within him and similarly the state can trump the individual
2) temporal man can be dignifiedly elevated to ideality and by extension willingly become a participant in the state
For Schiller, both reason and nature dominate man and there is something deeply problematic with the first route of snuffing out the subjective quality of the individual for the sake of morality and the state. The political scientist should view himself as an artist, such as a sculptor, that is deferential to his material. He needs to pay close attention to the idiosyncrasies of his material and bring them along into the moral state, otherwise he is a mere barbarian violently imposing his moral principles upon them. We now see why route 1 is not an available option for Schiller because it would be completely hypocritical to bring in a just state by force and also we now have an answer to our question as to why Schiller believed already arrived ethical men needed to be reconnected to their sensuality. If they are not connected to the natural feelings of their savage compatriots, the “moral men” within an evolving society will become totalitarian despots micromanaging the lives of their countrymen.
If a political state of necessity is going to be exchanged for a political state of freedom, then men need to be constituted in such a way that those stuck in animality are raised to principle and those devoted to principle develop a reverence for the multiplicity nature can take. This equilibrium of character amongst all men, Schiller believes, is essential for the forthcoming moral state. Schiller needs to soon tell us how this is achieved.
Schiller sees deference to the authority of the natural state to be on the wane. Men are demanding their rights and in some instances, seizing what they believe to be rightfully their’s. The natural state appears vulnerable, but is humanity prepared to replace it with political freedom? Schiller thinks it a vain hope with the currently apathetic generation. The numerous lower class, in light of the state’s degenerating power, is returning to barbarous animality at a breakneck speed. Intellectually refined society has become increasingly selfish and decreasingly communal. Pride in their independence has made them care more about things than people. Heart and natural feeling have been snuffed out. Ironically, civilized culture has not freed man, but bestowed new physical wants upon him. The bonds of materialism are turning the refined classes into morally passive wretches. Schiller can’t help but be despondent if a forthcoming moral state is predicated on the work of brutes and upper class narcissists.
Schiller does not anticipate objections to his critique of modern culture. If anything, some may claim that this universally occurs.. Schiller resists the further claim and thinks there is something unique about his age. To show this difference, he contrasts it with the greeks. The greeks had all the refinement that his age does; however, it did not cause the same problems within their culture. Why? The greeks were creative AND reasonable, yielding a united humanity. Schiller thinks the greeks, as they awoke from their sensual slumber, did not divide up the mind like moderns. Philosophy and poetry intermingled, exchanging functions episodically. Moderns with their specific brand of refinement, carve up the mind and stratify classes according to portions of total human psychology, making anyone in particular an unfair representative of the age, whereas any greek could proudly represent humanity. In addition to more rigorous speculation, modern machinery has expedited the divided intellect and by extension societal stratification. Simultaneously, industrial machinery has created an incredible chasm between intuitive imagination and the rational understanding. So not only are the professional classes alienated from one another, but from their feeling and creative natures as well. The separation of art and learning reached its completion by the modern spirit of government. Government atomizes people in accordance with professional strengths that serve the abstract whole, while keeping them fragmented beings. Schiller seemed to have anticipated the whole cogs in the machine proletariat talk. Only the aptitudes relating to honor and wealth are celebrated, whilst all creative and spiritual endeavors are neglected by the state. The state quite likes it to have meager talent completely devoted to single occupations. It serves the mechanism of the state well, whereas genius and vigor outside that single profession does not. What good does it do the current state if a man of genius has sublimer spiritual industry? Ultimately, the laws of the abstract whole (i.e. the state) cannot help but seem entirely alien to this mishmash of professions that are reflective of the divides in the modern intellect. This is in part how moderns get to the point where moral imposed force is either hated by the upper class narcissists or respected by the externally determined brutes.
Schiller thinks the dismembering of the mind was the inevitable necessary progress of man. Greek humanity could not be surpassed or sustained. The intellect would have eventually splintered itself. Schiller wants to get the fragments of the intellect reunited again and re-married to the imagination. This unification is how we will be made into fulfilled and happy men, who I suspect Schiller thinks will be ready for the ideal moral state. Think of an athlete that just does bicep curls. He will look pretty strange if that is the only exercise he does. He must work out all his limbs and muscles, according to Schiller, in order to be beautiful. Similarly, all the components of the human mind must be exercised and brought into unity in order to achieve happiness. Schiller thinks a higher art can restore our human totality
Schiller asks if the state should solve the dilemma of intellectually and creatively disorganized humanity? Not possible, thinks Schiller, for it is the currently flawed state that bestowed this problem upon modernity. Don’t look to the forthcoming rational state to resolve the matter either, for unified humanity must first be in place in order to establish the rationally conceived state. Until the divisions within man are no more, the ideal state cannot be. Physical man must emerge from nature and cultured man must return to nature’s simple truth. If usurpation occurs, meaning the rational state is installed by force, such a maneuver will lead to servitude in the former and insurrectionist libertinism in the latter.
Given the disorganized and unprepared condition of modern humanity, Schiller ponders if philosophy ought to acquiesce on the introduction of the ideal state.. Perhaps the polity ought to be left to blind force and self-interest. Psych! Practical reason in the mouth of the Sagacious Kant, has done everything it can to expound moral and political law. What is needed now is courageous freedom to execute the vision. Philosophy needs help. If intellectual truths are to tangle with the force of the pre-existing state, then they need to be transmogrified into a force. Some impulse has to animate these icy rational truths. If reason has done all it can, what else is holding men back from transcending into a realm of greater political freedom? Why does Schiller even need to write this book? Shouldn’t the situation of fractured society and an oppressive alien state be obvious to all those dwelling in it?. Schiller engages in the time honored philosophical tradition of concluding that the populace is indolent, cowardly, and cannot be bothered from what little respite they have. People are too preoccupied with meeting their physical and societal needs to engage in some political reformational effort. Contemptuously, Schiller claims that if people ever have higher political or spiritual interests, they are content to go by the pre-packaged formulas of church and state. Do they really want to embrace “rational” truth that decimates these hazy conceptions? Schiller thinks the answer is no and conceives that the way to the head is first through the heart. Training upon humanity’s sensibility will awaken the improved understanding and sustain it for more effective living. I’m pretty sure Schiller is going to start talking about art soon. God, I hope he does soon.
Schiller begins his 9th letter with a question with which we are all too familiar. If political improvement is predicated on an ennobled barbarous character, how can such improvement come to be? A non-state instrument is needed to not only establish political freedom, but to keep it pure. Finally, Schiller reveals that this instrument is fine art. Schiller draws truth and beauty closely together, just as Keats did, making art more than mere human convention and immune to humanity’s lawlessness
The artist is a child of his time, not a disciple of it. His subject matter may be of his time, but his form comes from what Schiller calls “unchangeable unity of being”. This being in the world, but not of the world duality allows for artistic works to stand out against the backdrop of vulgarized humanity. How does the artist steel himself against the opinions of his age? He must naturally disdain opinion and look only to dignity and law within. He must strive to unite the possible with the necessary in order to create the ideal. If the artist impresses the good upon his work, then temporally the good ought to develop. Others will have their attention, through their faculty of taste, directed towards the eternal good and lawless error will fall away. The artist has to cherish truth and beauty in his heart, in order to drive out the coarseness and frivolity within his contemporaries. He cannot lecture his peers. Their hearts have been corrupted; however, their taste remains pure. He must speak to taste, implanting principles there. They will tolerate eternal principles via this pathway; whereas, they would not tolerate such principles if openly expounded. If one can elevate them via art to the good, frivolity and corresponding base actions can be smothered. The goal here is to overpower actuality with art.
Schiller is confident that modernity is descending down two simultaneous false paths: the one coarse and the other enervated and perverse. How can beauty restore man to his proper destination? How can beauty unite the opposing proclivities within man? Schiller acknowledges respectable objections to the notion that beauty can get the job done. Maybe in skilled hands beauty can unite man’s character; however, it can be a destructive instrument as well. Also, hasn’t beauty proven to be a fanciful distraction, an escapist route from reality? What grounds do we have for thinking beauty can practically aid us? Further, history has shown that the arts often flourish during epochs of decline. If beauty truly has transformative effects upon man and in turn government, ought the opposite to be observed? From a historical perspective, beauty and freedom appear to rush in opposite directions. Schiller contemplates that experience may not be the best judge of the concept of beauty, for an imperfect concept of beauty may have manifested itself in history. Schiller wants to investigate if there is a rational concept of beauty. This must be abstracted and inferred from the sensual and rational duality of man. Arriving at this rational concept of beauty will require analyzing the pure conception of humanity and isolated instances of the rational concept of beauty’s achievement. Actuality has to be transcended via abstraction to capture the enduring truth of beauty.
Abstraction soars to ultimate concepts. It acknowledges an enduring element in man (“person”) and a ceaselessly changing one (“condition”). Think of Person and Condition as self and its determinations. In finite beings, the self endures a multitude of determinations. The person is what remains after one condition is supplanted by another. An interesting note here is that in the absolute or divine person there is no distinction between person and condition. Only in finite man are person and condition cleaved.
Person cannot be derived from condition and vice versa If Person could be derived from condition then the person would be changeable. If condition could be derived from person, then the condition must persist. In the first case, the personality would cease to exist
In the second case, the finiteness would cease to exist. We would be like gods.
Since the person cannot alter, it is grounded in itself or free. Condition is the result and is grounded in something else. The qualification or ground of conditional becoming is time
The personality or intelligence of man is timeless; however, he is situated in a specific condition and every displacing condition arises in time. If man were not linked to becoming and its ground time, he would be a potentiality and not be a definitive fact or existence. Man in his infinite perfection would be a unity of person and condition, but man cannot reach this divinity given his embodiment.
Man’s personality, considered apart from all sense material, is a mere potentiality
So long as he does not feel or think, he is just form and empty capacity. His sense faculty, considered by itself, does nothing but make him material and without the sense faculty he is just form. This doesn’t mean man has been united with matter. If man is driven by nothing but appetite, via his sense faculty, Schiller considers man to be mere world, meaning man has given no form to his becoming. Man can actualize potentiality and rise above world, by imparting form upon material. By actualizing the formal potentiality within, man negates time and bestows something persistent upon alterable circumstances. The diversity of the world is in a sense conquered via the unity and actualization of his person, self, ego or whatever you wanna call it. From this analysis, Schiller acknowledges two contradictory demands imposed upon man given his dual sensual-rational nature
1) absolute reality, meaning all his potentialities and internal forms are to be turned into world
2) absolute formality, all that is merely world within him is to be annihilated
Though embodied man will never fully achieve divinity, these demands drive him to approximate it.
In the 11th letter, Schiller revealed the two-fold task within of making what is necessary reality and bringing the outside under the dominion of necessity. He says two contrary impulses drive us towards the completion of this task. He names the first impulse the sensuous impulse. The sensuous impulse arises obviously from our sensual nature, and Schiller claims it desires to turn man into matter, meaning the sensuous impulse drives to convert the unalterable personality of man into mere alteration and changing matter within the constraints of time. Occupying time is what gives rise to sensation and this is how our physical dimension announces itself upon our being. Make him matter he says. It’ll be fun he says. Schiller uses an interesting example to make his point. Imagine a musical instrument such as a guitar. Before a note is struck all the music exists in potentiality. Presumably this is man if we just consider his person, but when one note is struck in time, only that note is heard and all others are limited. Only a component of the entire potentiality is. This is what the sensual impulse wants to do. It wants to take us out of timelessness and elevate something in sensation above the whole. When something comes into existence, many other things are destroyed. If man is totally beholden to his sensual impulse, the personality falls a way and he is caught up in the mad rush of time. The second impulse is the formal impulse. This proceeds from his rational nature and aims to preserve him throughout every alteration experienced in sensation. This part of us desires for the actual to be eternal and necessary. In short, it strives for truth and right. The formal impulse issues laws for judgment in the sphere of knowledge, laws of volition where action is concerned. The formal impulse judges an instance to be eternally beautiful or eternally just, when it proclaims them so. This should not surprise us if the judgments of particulars are coming from a timeless and eternal personality. When the formal impulse is in control, man is stepping back from his individualized sensation and marriage to matter. He is making a universal judgment that is not just right for him during his entire life span, but presumably for the entire species, sense we all share similar timeless egos. Man is actually conquering or removing himself from time, when making these judgments. The sensual impulse drives us to be a “unit of magnitude” as Schiller calls it (remember the single note struck?), whereas the formal impulse drives us to be what he calls a “unit of idea” or the most enlarged expansion of our being over phenomenon.
Schiller understands how seemingly inconceivable it is to unify the primitive and contradictory impulses of man by a hitherto unnamed impulse. It should be noted that just because the sensuous impulse and the formal impulse contradict one another, they do not mutually negate one another. The sensuous impulse seeks alteration, but not necessarily the alteration of the person. And the formal impulse does not seek to turn all conditions into timeless unities. Schiller claims it is the job of culture to protect the impulses from one another and vigorously develop each. The sense faculty must not have its freedom abridged by the rational and the rational faculty must not be overcome by sensation’s power. In the first case, feeling is cultivated and in the second, rationality. If man can get these components of self together, then he will experience an enriched existence of multifarious experience governed by the strength and freedom of his Person. Man does not have to become mere world. He can draw world within and reign over it via Reason’s unity. If the sensuous impulse reigns, man never becomes himself. If the formal impulse reigns, man is nothing other than himself
Schiller claims that in either scenario, man becomes a “non-entity”. It is strange to think of rational man as a non-entity, for it seems that the rational Personality of man is his quintessence, but we must remember that the unity of Person and Condition is actually man’s quintessence. Take away man’s condition and what man is disintegrates. Formal man is a mere apparition and needs reality proffered to it via sensation, in order to become a highly developed noetic and cerebral force.
Schiller claims to have thoroughly explicated how the sensuous and rational impulses concurrently limit and develop each other in their antagonism. Schiller believes it is clear now that if both impulses of man are enlivened simultaneously, where man’s formal impulse communicates his freedom and his sensuous impulse communicates his occurrence in time (that is to say when he both feels himself to be spirit and material), he will have an ennobled sense of his humanity. If such an object can precipitate a feeling within, it is greeted as a symbol of his Infinite destiny that embodiment prevents him from autonomously and sustainably achieving.
Schiller thinks it time to speak of a new impulse that can explain how symbols can momentarily unite the contradictory sensuous and formal impulses of man. He first mentions here the “play impulse”. The play impulse is a synthesis of the sensuous and the formal impulse. Tentatively he claims, that the play impulse will do at least two things
1) eliminate “time in time” (whatever that means. I think I know. I’ll get back to you)
2) bring variation in accord with absolute being
If the sense impulse, wants to be determined by an external object and the formal impulse wants to determine itself and produce an object, then the play impulse will try to receive what it produced and produce in a manner similar to how the sense impulse receives. I’m not actually sure what Schiller means by analogizing play production with sensual reception. Perhaps, he thinks it is to be automatic in some way. Hopefully, he will elucidate what he means here.
The sense impulse receives unfree objects, while the form impulse banishes dependence. Both these impulses run the mind. The sense impulse through nature’s laws and the formal impulse through reason’s laws. The play impulse, since it combines the functionality of the other impulses, will compel the mind both morally and physically. It will annul chance and compulsion, liberating man in regards to the physical and the moral. Schiller tries to illustrate this. Let’s see if he does a good job. When we passionately embrace someone who we ought to despise, nature painfully reminds us of our mistake. Perhaps that is the sinking feeling in our stomach, when we know someone is not right for us. When we are cruel towards someone who ought to command our respect, reason reprimands us. Oh, sweet conscience, but if someone commands both our respect and our affection, then the constraints of our nature and reason allow us to freely love them. Schiller thinks this is a similar experience that occurs when objects are presented to the play impulse. If done correctly, they will liberate us from our sensual and formal duality and we will freely love them (I think). Our affections will be harmonized with rational ideas and reason’s laws won’t feel so obligatory since they will be effectively reconciled with sensation
Schiller understands that he dropped some incredible insights and conclusions during the previous letter. Most of the 15th letter is spent clarifying his claims and making them a bit more accessible. He begins by creating an inventory of the impulses and their conceptual objects. The object of the sense impulse is “life” (a.k.a. all material being). The object of the form impulse is “shape” (aka formal qualities of some thing and those formal qualities’ relation to intellectual faculties). The object of the play impulse is “living shape”, which designates a phenomena’s aesthetic qualities or beauty. This does not mean that only living things can be beautiful and that lifeless things cannot be beautiful. Nor does it mean that all living things are beautiful. The beautiful is the form that takes up residence in our sensation. Reason, seeking to overcome the limitations of the sense and form impulses, establishes the play impulse to discover beauty and unify our fractured humanity. In this process, the power of sensation seems quite small and the yoke of necessity quite light. On this view, man is wholly a man when he plays with a beautiful object
This is all fine and good. I’m following it. I do have some questions.
If Art can unify man, that is a definitive good; however, Schiller’s goal is not so much to complete our psychology, but to prepare us for a moral state. How will beauty get that job done?
I’d like to have some examples of how the play impulse discerns the beautiful from the not beautiful. Why is a sculpture of Juno so mesmerizing, while my moldy new balance sneaker is not? Is it because she is the sensuous manifestation of the ideal of woman, whereas my sneaker is a very bad instantiation of what is known as a shoe? Is it that simple? Would Schiller even say that shoes are beautiful? We need more info. Further, what about art that is immaterial, such as music? Last night I was listening to Satie’s “Caresse” and found it to be very beautiful. What ideal is it communicating to sensibility?
I think I understand the general contours of Schiller’s account, but I am unclear as to how he will achieve his political aims and explain particular instances of beauty.
Schiller reiterates that beauty arises from the union of the contradictory impulses, when form and reality are brought into equilibrium, but this seems to remain an unactualized idea. In actuality, the composing elements will take turns dominating one another. At one moment, reality predominates and then in turn form. All this means is that beauty in idea is eternal and indivisible equilibrium, but in practice beauty is two-fold and may be destroyed by one of it’s constitutive elements. If in perfect equilibrium, the beautiful ought to relax and tighten. There is a relaxing effect to keep the sensual and formal impulses properly within their limits, but also a tightening effect to retain their strength and vigor. Ideally, beauty ought to relax the impulses by tightening them and the converse as well. Schiller is worried that this is not what goes on in actuality. In ideality, the beautiful melts us and energizes us..But how do these reciprocal melting and energizing effects that relax and strengthen the duality of man play out in real life where the concept of beauty is two-fold and often dominated by either the formal or sensual aspect? If the formal component dominates the beautiful, it will likely be an energizing beauty that does nothing to tame the wildness of the savage. His gentle humanity is suppressed and coarseness prevails. There can be tremendous imagination associated with energizing beauty, but often at the expense of our natural feeling. What if the sensual impulse dominates, creating a relaxing or phantasmagorical effect, where everything is just so dreamy?
Man becomes enervated, frivolous, lost in some sort of aesthetic haze. All his refinement has made him weak and undisciplined. An overdose of taste and the sensual, requires the energizing aspect of art. Schiller thinks that he can now answer those earlier concerns people had about aesthetic culture. Those individuals likely had an imperfect concept of beauty in mind, the one with the two-fold nature that in practice either energizes and creates rigidity or melts and creates apathy. Going forward Schiller will examine how melting beauty affects the rigid and how energizing beauty affects the apathetic. His hope is to dissolve these opposing modes in the ideal or rational conception of beauty.
After developing a rational concept of man and beauty, Schiller is ready to re-enter actuality or life as it is actually. In real life, man fails to attain the harmonious perfection of both the sensuous and spiritual powers. This perfection is corrupted via disharmony or lethargy
To elaborate, man is either tense because one of the aforementioned powers has upset the equilibrium of his being or man is excessively relaxed and given over to torpidity. Beauty is suppose to rehabilitate harmony in the tense man and wake up the languid man from his sensual slumber and thereby complete man. Because of man’s diminished character, we witness diminished episodic forms of beauty. We may witness beauty made or praised by tense man that is unfree and uniform. Conversely, we may witness beauty made or praised by the apathetic, which is devoid of all the energizing power we would expect of ideal beauty. We know that the true conception of beauty is rarely found, given man’s unbalanced or indolent character, which causes him to extoll or produce bastardized species of beauty.
Just to clarify some terminology and prepare us for what is to come, Schiller says that the tense man is not constrained by ideas, but sensation as well. The taught man could be the hyper-rational robotic physics teacher you had in high school or the taught man could be the one so beholden to pathological sensation that he cannot break free. Perhaps, an addict would fall into this category. Schiller appears to think that relaxed individuals are not so pathologically addicted to one impulse over the other. If they are given over to the sensuous, then they have been vitiated and experience a freedom from form. If the formal lures them, then they are relaxed and free from matter. What might be good examples of this? The casual hedonist might be the one free from form. They might just enjoy hula hooping at festivals and good vibes, ya know? Similarly, the relaxed formalist might just be some philosophical daydreamer, caught up in the contemplation of truth.
Melting beauty addresses the two-fold task by announcing herself in two shapes.
The first is “quiet form”, where savage life is softened so that he is led from sensation to ideas or thoughts
The second is “living shape”: here abstract form is married with sensation, so as to lead concept back to feeling
The first service is done for the sake of “natural man” and the second for “artificial man”. I take it here that by natural man Schiller means those individuals less removed from sensation. The artificial men, I’m supposing, are the one’s more divorced from natural feeling and caught up in contemplation and formality. What’s a little confusing about this section (if we have supposed correctly) is that there are sub-sets of both natural man and artificial man. The four following combinations seem possible: Tense artificial man, tense natural man, relaxed artificial man, relaxed natural man. This nuance is important. The quiet form of melting beauty, if for “natural man”, may relax tense natural man and invigorate relaxed natural man. Similarly, the living shape of melting beauty may relax tense artificial man and invigorate relaxed artificial man. I’m just speculating right now on how this all may work. Perhaps, in the next chapter Schiller will identify energizing beauty, as not a mere aspect of melting beauty, but its own kind of beauty and we will have to rethink this whole schema I just developed. That would suck. There isn’t really an edit function once I record and throw this. I get what the dynamics of melting beauty are, but the how is still very mysterious to me. How precisely will natural men be elevated to thought and either be relaxed or energized by it? Along the same lines, how will artificial men be relaxed or invigorated by sensation? If I am any of these categories right now, it is likely the tense artificial man. My brain really hurts right now. It would be nice to behold some beauty rather than think or write about it all the time. So, Schiller, I’m listening. How are you going to rip me out of my intellectual citadel and reconnect me to sensation?
Ok, it’s settled. Beauty brings sensuous man to form and spiritual man back to the realm of sense. Many would suppose an intermediate midpoint between form and sense or activity and passivity, where beauty transports us. Schiller thinks this is an impossible conception for there is an infinite gulf between form and matter, thought and sensation, activity and passivity. There is no intermediate condition. Beauty merely combines the opposing conditions of contemplating and sensing into a single act. The wholly opposite processes reciprocally support each other in the apprehension of the beautiful. Schiller’s goal is to combine them so perfectly that they give way to a third condition, which I’m supposing is the play impulse. Schiller reasons in the following way as to why so many have failed at his task in the history of aesthetics
1) Philosophers, discerning solely by feeling, cannot apprehend the individual concept of beauty from the sensuous totality. He says these philosophers are hesitant to invalidate beauty “dynamically”. I take this to mean that such philosophers think they are restricting the freedom of beauty by applying formality to sensuality.
2) Philosophers, discerning solely by intellect, only see the parts of the conceptual totality and thus know nothing of how the sensuous fits in. Without an account of the sensuous the concept of beauty is incomplete. These philosophers, Schiller claims, do not want to invalidate beauty “logically”. I take this to mean that these philosophers don’t want experience destroying their theoretical models on beauty.
Schiller says both camps miss the truth. To the first group of philosophers, Schiller comforts them by saying, the freedom of beauty you seek to preserve is not lawlessness, but the harmony of laws. To the second group of philosophers, he claims that a definite conception of beauty does not arise from the exclusion of reality, but the inclusion of all realities
Schiller begins by claiming that within man there are two conditions: active and passive determinability. Passively, prior to any active determination by man’s person or reason, man’s spirit is presented with boundless impressions in space and time. The imagination has all these sense impressions to work with and nothing has been excluded as a possibility. Schiller calls this condition of indeterminability “empty infinity”. After all this inchoate sense data is taken in, a limit or concept is imposed upon the infinity from the formal faculty, so that it becomes an actuality. Schiller thinks it impossible to scrutinize where these universals and concepts come from. They are buried way too deep in our human history to analyze. The same goes for the eternal concepts of truth and right. We exchange our free indeterminability in order to have a reality. Without limits, no reality. Judgment and thought are what impose order upon the empty infinity. What’s interesting here is that Schiller claims that we arrive at the unlimited first via a limit. Without a fixed point in space we could never think of unending space and without an instance of time we could not conceive of eternity.
As stated earlier, the beautiful alone cannot fill up the infinite gulf between form and matter or activity and passivity in regards to man’s character. A new autonomous faculty has to be created for man to ascend from sense to principle and descend from form to sense.
Schiller thinks of man as free when both his fundamental impulses, the sensuous and the formal impulses, have developed. If the rational faculty never develops, man is buoyed about in the inchoate mess of empty infinity. Schiller thinks it possible to pinpoint a moment in humanity, where man is not free, meaning where only one of the impulses is developed. The sense impulse precedes the formal impulse or sensation arrives ahead of consciousness. So for a short while, sensuousness rules the roost and man is not properly man. One would think that once the formal faculty develops that the authority of sensation will yield to the authority of reason; however, Schiller does not think the matter to be so simple. Of course. It is not enough for form just to go into action, but we must also examine what causes the cessation of the physical dominion over man. The new determination is made possible by the removal of the original one. Schiller claims that within the mind the pathway from sensation to thought is paved via a middle condition, where both sensuousness and formality are of equal balance. Think of a scale containing two weights and how they perfectly balance. When both powers are active at the same time, they are actually destroying and negating one another. Here, our nature is neither coerced physically nor morally, yet both the impulses remain active. Schiller calls this disposition the “free disposition” and I think he also means to deem it the aesthetic condition.
So going forward I have the following questions:
Does Schiller think that we naturally evolve to the aesthetic condition at some point in our personal development? What is an instance of that? Was that when I was 14 and playing in my garage band?
How long did this period last? An instance? 5 years?
Does this in some way explain our nostalgia for halcyon days?
Schiller has been warning us for the past few chapters that there is no mid-point between form and sensation, but here he describes a middle condition. Presumably, one of the big reasons he is against the idea of an intermediate point for connecting sensation to thought is because he believes a new faculty or condition is responsible for the apprehension of beauty. Could this middle condition be the aesthetic faculty? What makes a faculty and how is it different from a mid-point? We must press on with these questions in hand.
Schiller aims to clarify the claim he made a chapter or two back concerning the dual nature of determinacy and a corresponding dual condition of determination. Ok, when the mind is presented with just sensation and no form has been imposed upon it, transforming it into reality, Schiller called that “Indeterminacy” (remember: no limits, no reality). Now Schiller tells us about “aesthetic determinacy”. What does this mean? This means that the mind has not been determined exclusively (unlimited because of the inclusion of all realities”). Aesthetic determinacy is not making sense to me right now. Does this just mean that multifarious reality overwhelms the concepts that initially imposed form upon the mere indeterminacy that was primordially experienced? Schiller is calling the aesthetic freedom of determination “filled infinity” and a proper counter part to the “empty infinity”of indeterminacy. Perhaps aesthetic determination works like this. If our mental concepts are like cups, then they floweth over when presented with certain sensuous experiences. Would this be the “filled infinity” of aesthetic determination? It kind of sounds right. Schiller claims here that man has been turned into a “cipher”, which is a word I had to look up. What I think he means here is that man’s sensuous and formal impulses are offset and suspended so that one does not dominate the other. It seems there is a resetting here, where man is no longer determined by either side of his nature. An infinite faculty has been restored to him in the aesthetic disposition
So beauty acts as “a second creator” according to Schiller and allows us by an act of will to make humanity possible. I take humanity to mean here perfect moral being and the just state; however, I won’t jump the gun and put words in Schiller’s mouth.
Schiller contextualizes his previous statement on the aesthetic condition of mind being akin to a cipher. If looked at properly, this state is of the highest reality given the unlimitedness of the unified sensuous and formal powers. The aesthetic condition transports us to a timeless place, where any human capacity could be purely developed without impediment from externality.
Throughout the book, Schiller forcefully argued that an overdose of sensation or intellection, leads to weakness in the first case and coldness in the second. Neither is the case with beauty. In the aesthetic condition, we can freely oscillate between play and rigor, delight and strength, passion and formality. A true work of beauty ought to elevate us to freedom of spirit with vigor and strength.
Schiller thinks this pure aesthetic experience leads to a mode of operation in life. What are we inclined to do after an intense enjoyment of beauty? Before he can give that answer, he first digresses and says that each type of art form, in its imperfect form, is naturally a little closer to one of man’s powers. For instance, music is very imaginative and sensual and it would not make complete sense to launch into theoretical conversations after such an experience. Sculpture may be too close to the intellect to lead to frivolity. Schiller does think that the arts are on the same trajectory though and becoming more like one another, where music is becoming more like sculpture and visa versa. The limitations of each art form are being transcended, so that the form of the artwork precipitates the aesthetic condition of man. The content of the artwork almost becomes incidental. The true artist overcomes or in Schiller’s words “annihilates material by means of form” p.106
So the true work of art does not excite one side of our nature more than another. It ought to be received with equal parts seriousness and play. Schiller thinks that art forms that stir up our emotions, such as tragedy, or art forms that try to be educative or didactic are contradictions in terms. Art cannot appeal to only one side of our nature or it disturbs the aesthetic condition, which is a perfect balance and freedom from our physical and moral dimensions
I’m cool with this, but I’m still mystified by what it means to impress form upon artistic material. We are told that the form cannot be educative principles, so what options are we left with in regards to formality? Can Schiller give us an example of how form properly tames material and induces the aesthetic condition?
Schiller returns to his practical exercise after the excursion into the discussion of art. His claim is that though the intermediate condition of aesthetic freedom does nothing to directly resolve moral dilemmas, it is the only way to lead man out of sensuousness and into rationality. To make man moral, you must first make him aesthetic. In sensuous man, he does not have the intellectual freedom to ascend to moral truths. He needs to exchange his passive determination for self-determination and the aesthetic condition permits that active self-determination.
Schiller actually thinks it is easier to transition from the aesthetic condition to morality via spontaneous reason, than to go from brute physical life to the aesthetic condition. The brute has to be transported to an entirely new temperament. His nature has to be transformed. Aesthetic man just needs a “sublime situation” p.110 to motivate knowledge and morality. Hmmm…what are these mysterious sublime situations that act on our aesthetic condition for truth and right? Perhaps, Schiller means that self-reprimand and self-reward govern, when we are free in the aesthetic condition. If we submit to nature, we feel debased. If we live for law, we feel our sublime dignity.
Here are some closing questions for this chapter. Is it true that one must first pass through the aesthetic condition to get to a rational and moral perspective? What are the ramifications of this idea? Is this how morality is really understood? No one ever passes from physicality to rationality through force of concepts alone? What does Schiller’s claim mean both for the individual and the human race? Was there a moment in our personal development where we dwelled in aesthetic freedom? Again, when? Was there a moment in human history where humanity dwelled in the aesthetic condition? If so, when? Was it all downhill after the greeks? Was Greece our second eden as a species? I’m looking forward to Schiller answering these questions over the next four chapters.
Both individual man and humanity writ large progress from the physical to the aesthetic condition and from aesthetic condition to the moral condition. Schiller claims these intervals can be lengthened or shortened but not reversed. Presumably Schiller believes that we can fall away from the moral condition or recede back into animality from the aesthetic condition, so it is not a straight shot from animality to morality. If it was, a great deal of this book’s catalyst would never have existed.
Schiller does concede here that a crude depiction of man as being just another brute amongst nature is an imagined scenario. The historical record does not show a particular time or people as being this externally determined. What we find is man in his chimerical state. Brute and reason often intermix. Art and beauty, on Schiller’s view, aim to purify the opposing principles and create a free disposition that allows man to choose anew. If man is this chimera from the get go, why doesn’t he simply arise to rational ideas? Why can’t he purify himself? Why must beauty be the agent? Schiller thinks that in his intermixed state man applies his reason to aggrandize what his sensual instincts already covet. He is motivated by care and fear to preserve happiness on grand levels; however, happiness is rarely achieved given that reason is applied to objects rather than to his dignity. So what ever advantage nature has conferred upon man with intelligence, actually makes him despair given the misapplication.
Schiller makes an interesting aside here about religion that could have some interesting reverberations if teased out. He says that man in this intermixed state does move slightly from brutishness to an idea of religion, but it is not a religion of freedom where moral law is valid in and of itself, but rather law is valid because it comes from a powerful being that is to be feared. What an interesting insight into the evolution of religion within humanity. Perhaps, Hegel would cherrypick this idea for his own musings on the unfolding of religion within time.
Schiller polishes off this chapter by clarifying that when material dominates form in man, we get either a non-rational animal (which doesn’t exist presently) or a rational animal where alien reason has only hesitantly presented itself. Neither of these scenarios will do. The goal of man is to become a human being, which means the sensual and rational are purified from one another and yet complement one another. I take it that we are made human again in the aesthetic condition or we are given the pre-condition for humanity. We have to ask ourselves here, if the balance is achieved between our dual nature, why would anyone choose to debase themselves? Why would anyone knowingly annul their dignity? Seems like Plato would be relevant here.
Insofar as man is caught up entirely in the physical processes of the world, Schiller claims there is no world for him. Man merely is world. It is once he has entered the aesthetic condition and can contemplate does a world open up within.
What does Schiller think occurs when we contemplate? When we behold an object and contemplate it, Schiller thinks man is able to perceive the form of the object in a timeless place. This eternal perspective gives man leverage over the physical processes and produces a serene escape from his constantly inflamed passions. In contemplation, man realizes that the object under consideration is something he has produced. He has given the material form. He asserts his dignity in the face of once overpowering nature. In abstract contemplation, we see the sensuous dimension to be an incidental aspect to the conceptual truth.
This is not the case with the beautiful
The sensuous is not an accidental trait that can be dismissed. No, reflection and sensation intermix in the beautiful, so as to give rise to the feeling that we directly discern “form”. In the case of beauty, perceiving form has two components.
1) the act, where we make an object with our reflective contemplation.
2) “a state of our personality” p.122 or a feeling of life
So I take it here, that when man regularly makes a world through his reflective faculty, the sensuous does not arouse such a great feeling in him and he goes about carving up the world according to his categories, feeling some dignity within his breast. Beauty is a different experience. Man, simultaneously experiences contemplative dignity along with enlivened sensuousness. So we now know the difference between the regular application of rational form upon the material world to create objects for man, and the living form of the beautiful. When an artist tries to impress the living form upon a piece of art, he is trying to present an object to an audience that will simultaneously enliven the reflective categorizing aspect of man and his sensuousness. Beauty therefore occurs within man, when he is both transported to a place of timeless reflection that searches for a form to fully encapsulate the overflowing sensuousness presented to his consciousness. Perhaps this is why people think that Ulysses is a good book. Joyce threads through it so many formal concepts and marries them with the gritty reality of Dublin. The fact that the book is absolutely mystifying and cannot be completely figured out, might make it a continuous object of beauty.
I hope I have done Schiller justice here. I have some questions. Does the beauty of something endure forever? Will it forever be able to present “living form” to my consciousness or will my reflective faculty convert living form to mere form eventually, meaning will the work of art be dominated by a plain concept and have its special sensuous enlivening character snuffed out? Essentially, Is there a shelf-life to beauty? If there is, was that art object not beautiful in the first place? Does the change in the judgment of the beautiful reflect more about me than the object? Heady questions to take with us as we wrap up.
The aesthetic disposition is something bestowed by fortune upon us in our physical condition. It is what loosens the bonds of sensuousness. Can Schiller say anything about how this transition to the aesthetic condition from animality happens? Universally, he claims, people have arisen out of animality given their fascination with appearance, ornament, and play. Taking delight in what the eye sees or the ear hears begins to develop the aesthetic condition within man. Not long after, man develops the imitative impulse where he can imaginatively recreate the shape of things and recombine them in ways that nature never intended, therefore greatly extending the boundaries of what can be considered beautiful and reaffirming laws of intellect within.
Schiller, in this chapter, is quick to denounce art that merely imitates reality. One can understand his concern. Duplicative art might not inspire the freedom of the aesthetic condition for it can be too easily categorized by intellectual form. This raises questions. Would Schiller consider hyper-realist art to be imperfect art only speaking to our sensual side? That seems problematic. I can think of instances of hyper-realistic art that are both banal and beautiful. Further, I wonder how Schiller would judge the medium of photography. Would the photographic arts complicate or confirm Schiller’s account of aesthetics?
Last chapter, it was referenced that man has a natural proclivity towards appearance and play that leads him ultimately to the aesthetic condition. Schiller elaborates on the nascent instinct of play. He believes that man has a naturally occurring imagination, which sequences images. This imagination almost unconsciously moves from image to image. It points to freedom from total external constraint; however at this juncture it says nothing about a creative man within. A qualitative leap must occur to go from the blindly guided natural imagination to the imagination of aesthetic play, where man subjects random images to his faculty of judgment. Schiller splits these hairs for it allows for him to account for bad taste with greater specificity. Humans still driven by their dumb and blind imagination that is heavily influenced by sensation are likely to prefer “art” objects that cater to the restlessness and frivolity of the untamed imagination. Explosions, loud noises, etc. I guess the fast and furious movie going public falls into this category.
How then does the play impulse develop from this crude imagination that is sated so easily with the gaudy and the grotesque? Schiller thinks that in time the play of the crude imagination no longer truly excites man. At some point, we lose interest in fast and the furious movies. We want to take pleasure in ourselves. We want to feel the dignity in ourselves associated with the apprehension of beauty. We want to experience that ennobling spiritual instance where our dignified rational intellect is paired with enlivened sensuality in a timeless place. This is what precipitates the transition from natural play to aesthetic play.
To reiterate, man with his natural and premature imagination may make ridiculous movements that are then subjected to form and become dance. Man may make ridiculous noises that then give way to song and so on. Schiller thinks in time the restless and arbitrary imagination eventually gives way to form bestowed upon it by the legislative faculty in aesthetic imaginative play.
Well, now we have 3 pages to go and Schiller needs to tie a bow on how this aesthetic play condition leads to the ideal political state. Remember that in what Schiller calls the “Dynamic” p.137 or natural state, man coerces man via force. In the ethical sate, he coerces and restrains via the law’s majesty. Schiller claims that in the cultivated aesthetic state, man in his aesthetic freedom grants freedom to other men. We’re going to need to draw this connection tighter. Necessity may have driven man into society and reason bestowed ethical principles to order that society; however, without the aesthetic dimension to the individual and the society writ large, we live in vulgarized societies.
“Go on” we may say. Encountering the beautiful in the aesthetic disposition not only unifies the divisions within man creating internal harmony, but also harmony between individuals. If the beautiful is appealing to the universal dual nature of man and harmonizing us all internally, then the fractures within society ought to go away as well. Ok, but how?
The sensuous men are elevated out of their animality and can recognize something grander than blind instinct. They are elevated to truth and right. The moral equations of rational men don’t bite so much now. They no longer must forcefully apply them for they have been reconnected to sensuousness and are capable of greater feeling for men. Their compassion and empathy are enlivened. In short, Schiller seems to think we can create a just and equal society through the perception of the beautiful. That in itself is a beautiful idea.
I’ve quite enjoyed constructing this lecture series for you. Schiller’s ideas would naturally lead to the conclusions that all artists who strive to create the beautiful are in some way essential moral agents in a forthcoming just state. If Schiller’s account is correct, one could conceivably make the case that art ought to be encouraged at every stage of life and be easily accessible. If we believed this, think how beautiful our world would be.
Schiller’s “On the Aesthetic Education of Man”
Edition: Courier Corporation 2004
Lecturer: Luke Johnson
© 2016 Noetic / Luke Johnson