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Schiller, Johann Christoph Friedrich (1759–1805)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M037-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 14, 2024, from

Article Summary

Schiller was an artist first – a major poet and the leading dramatist of eighteenth-century Germany – and an aesthetician second. At the height of his involvement in aesthetics, he calls the philosopher ‘a caricature’ beside ‘the poet, the only true human being’. But reflection had deep roots in his nature, to the point where he felt it inhibited his creativity, yet would also have to be the means to restore it. He eventually came to terms with this paradox by devising a typology of ‘naïve’ and ‘reflective’ artists that explained his problem – and incidentally the evolution of modern European literature (On Naïve and Reflective Poetry, 1796). Schiller was also driven by a passionate belief in the humanizing and social function of art. His early speech The Effect of Theatre on the People (1784; later title The Stage considered as a Moral Institution) celebrated the one meeting-place where our full humanity could be restored. In the mature essays of the 1790s, an immensely more complex argument cannot hide the ultimate simplicity of his faith in art, even and especially in the midst of historical crisis: his culminating statement on beauty, On the Aesthetic Education of Man (1795) is at the same time a considered response to events in France, where a ‘rational’ Revolution had turned into a Reign of Terror. Schiller proposes an education for humane balance as the only sufficiently radical answer to the violent excesses of impulse, and argues that art is its only possible agent. Schiller’s ideas are imaginative, generous and intuitively appealing as an account of what art is and might do. With the authority of his poetic standing and the high eloquence of his prose, they are powerful cultural criticism. Arguably they could have been more effective still and less vulnerable if he had not tried to make them something else by giving them a systematic quasi-Kantian form, as a result of which philosophical commentators have often patronized him while the Common Reader has been scared off.

Citing this article:
Reed, T.J.. Schiller, Johann Christoph Friedrich (1759–1805), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M037-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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