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Schiller as Philosopher$

Frederick Beiser

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780199282821

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2006

DOI: 10.1093/019928282X.001.0001

Early Philosophy

(p.13) 1 Early Philosophy
Schiller as Philosopher

Frederick Beiser (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter introduces Schiller’s historical context and philosophical development. While emphasizing the importance of Schiller’s early writings, it also argues that Schiller’s discovery of Kant in the 1780s marks a break with much of his earlier thinking. Metaphysical interpretations of Schiller’s thought have failed to recognize the purport of his conversion to Kant.

Keywords:   Kant, Ferguson, theosophy, skepticism, metaphysics, virtue, enlightenment, dualism, anthropology


Anyone who wants to understand Schiller's mature philosophy must first come to terms with his early intellectual background. The mature philosophy, as Schiller expounded it in his aesthetic writings from 1790 to 1796, cannot be fully understood from its immediate context, as if it were only the product of Schiller's attempt to come to terms with Kant and the disputes surrounding Kant's philosophy in the 1790s. For, as we shall soon see, how we interpret these later writings depends very much on how we place them within Schiller's general intellectual development. Some of Schiller's fundamental aims, problems and values were determined decisively by his early intellectual environment; and these aims, problems and values shaped everything he wrote afterward.

Since the 1950s, Schiller's early intellectual background has been the subject of intensive research.1 This work has cast much new light on Schiller's origins and context, and it has challenged the traditional picture of Schiller as a lonely genius in struggle against a benighted and backward environment. Here I cannot even begin to summarize the results of this research; all I can do is stress those factors that are most important for an understanding of Schiller's philosophical development.

After his primary education from 1765 to 1772, first at the Dorfschule in Lorch and then at a Lateinschule in Ludwigsberg, Schiller went to the new Karlschule near Stuttgart, which had been recently founded by Duke Karl Eugen of Württemberg in 1770. Schiller's early education would be dominated by the Karlschule, where he was a student from January 1773 until December 1780. The Karlschule was a rather unique educational institution. It was originally conceived (p.14) as a military academy; it then became a gardening school for the children of poor soldiers; and it finally evolved into something like a university. By 1782 the Karlschule had grown into a sprawling institution: it was a combined university, military academy, medical school, business school, art college and music school. True to its origins, the Karlschule was run very much like a military academy. Students had to wear uniforms and march on parade; the hours for sleeping, eating and instruction were precisely prescribed and strictly observed. Discipline was severe: students were encouraged to spy on one another; and punishment, though not corporeal, took the form of humiliation: a paper stating the infraction was stuck to the uniform. Life was so strictly and precisely regulated that students had virtually no private space or spare time. Family visits to the school were allowed only on Sundays; and visits home were forbidden, even on holidays and for the deaths of family members.

The Karlschule always stood under the shadow of its founder and benefactor, Karl Eugen. In some respects Karl Eugen was the very prototype of the eighteenth-century enlightened despot. Taught the duties of a sovereign under Friedrich II of Prussia, he duly believed that the prince should be the first servant of his people, though, of course, government should be always for and never by them. After taking over the reigns of power at the age of 16, however, Karl Eugen quickly forgot the lessons of his master; he began to enjoy all the pomp and power of absolutism. His court was to eclipse the Versailles of Louis XIV; and he squandered his kingdom's wealth on palaces, banquets, theatres, hunting parties and firework displays. But Karl Eugen never could be the absolute ruler he so desperately wanted and pretended to be. For Württemberg was a Ständesstaat, a state governed by the old estates—the aristocracy, clergy and higher bougeoisie—who would meet in a parliament or Landschaft. Karl Eugen was constantly locked in a struggle for power with the estates, who attempted to curb his lavish spending and absolutist strivings. The struggle with the Duke was complicated and intensified by religion: the Duke was a Catholic while the estates were determined to keep Württemberg a Protestant land. In 1770 the Duke's conflict with the estates was finally settled in their favour. The Duke was forced to sign the so-called ‘Erbvergleich’,a treaty recognizing the traditional rights of the estates. The signing of the Erbvergleich made the duke mend his extravagent and arbitrary ways. Under the influence of his mistress, Baroness Franziska von Leutrum, he finally became the enlightened and beneficent ruler he was taught he should be; he would become a new, if smaller, version of Friedrich II. The most conspicuous sign of his beneficence and enlightenment would be the Karlschule.

The Karlschule was very much Karl Eugen's personal project. To an extraordinary degree, he was involved in the details of daily administration: he followed the progress of the students; he hired the faculty; he attended disputations and examinations; and he bestowed prizes and meted out discipline. All the absolute power denied him by the estates was exercised over the school, which became his little private dominion. Like all enlightened despots, Karl Eugen saw himself as the father (p.15) of his people, and so his students now became his sons. The students were made to regard him as their true father, and not least for this reason were their home visits prohibited. Since he paid for his students' education, they were completely dependent on his beneficence, a fact he never let them forget. He knew all his students, not least Schiller himself, who became a personal favorite. ‘Aus dem wird etwas’, he once announced against some of Schiller's more skeptical mentors. Karl Eugen's close supervision of every aspect of school administration, combined with his immense political power, inevitably made him into an despot, even if a paternal and beneficent one.2

This fact, apparently so accidental and arbitrary, is of the utmost importance to understand Schiller's intellectual development. For Karl Eugen's tyrannical rule over his students gave Schiller a direct, daily and deep experience of the meaning and consequences of absolutism. Schiller's supreme spiritual, intellectual and moral value—freedom—grew out of his frustrated rebellion against Karl Eugen. As long as the flame of his resentment burned, Schiller's love of freedom would persist; and the resentment against the man who oppressed him for eight years, and who deprived him of the comforts of his family, did not gently disappear. In his later years, Schiller would learn to appreciate what Karl Eugen had done for him, the excellent education he had provided, and his paternal devotion, guidance and kindness. When Karl Eugen died in 1793 he was even saddened by his death. But such fairness and mellowness only came with age, hindsight and forgiveness. We should not underestimate the power of Schiller's resentment, the inner spirit of rebellion, which was the creative spirit behind all his early plays.

The curriculum of the Karlschule prescribed the shape of Schiller's early education. Compared to other eighteenth-century German institutions, the Karlschule curriculum was unique. In some respects, it was very traditional. Students learned to dance, fence and ride, as in the older Ritterakademie for aristocrats. In other respects, however, it was very modern, since students could study such subjects as mathematics, geography, history and economics. Although it taught classical languages, especially Latin and some Greek, the Karlschule did not make the classics the focus of education, as the neo-humanist movement would later advocate. Religion and theology, which were so important for traditional universities, played virtually no role in the Karlschule. As a Roman Catholic in a Protestant state, Karl Eugen had very limited powers with regard to religion; the Landschaft forbade him to introduce theology into the curriculum. The most striking feature of the Karlschule curriculum was the extraordinary emphasis it placed upon (p.16) philosophy.3 Philosophy replaced classical languages and religion as the core of the curriculum. After the reform of the curriculum introduced in 1775, more than fifteen hours a week were devoted to philosophy. Students learned logic, metaphysics, and ethics; they read predominantly modern authors, among them Moses Mendelssohn, Ernst Platner and Christian Garve. They also studied in German translation the central figures of the Scottish Enlightenment: Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, Francis Hutcheson and David Hume; and they read in the original the French materialists: Julian Offray de La Mettrie, Paul Henri d'Holbach and Claude-Adrien Helvétius. Their lectures introduced them to some of the latest thinking in aesthetics, especially the writings of Herder, Winckelmann, Sulzer, Lessing and Batteux. The emphasis in learning philosophy was not upon acquiring an historical knowledge of past thinkers but upon developing the power to think for oneself. Students had to defend theses in disputations, write original essays and submit a dissertation. All in all, the philosophical training of the Karlschule was outstanding by eighteenth-century standards.4 On these grounds alone, it is necessary to question Schiller's reputation as a hopeless amateur in philosophy.

The absence of theology in the curriculum of the Karlschule was a deep disappointment to the young Schiller, who had long nurtured hopes of becoming a clergyman. Since, however, he could not pay for his own education, he would have to make the best out of the Karlschule. In 1774 Schiller began to study jurisprudence, though this dry subject had little appeal to him. Because there were already too many lawyers in Württemberg, Karl Eugen recommended that Schiller pursue the study of medicine, which had been only recently introduced into the curriculum. For lack of something better, Schiller duly enrolled into the medical faculty in 1775. It was in medicine that he would receive his formal training and degree.

It is important to recognize that medicine in the Karlschule was still very much a philosophical discipline. It was indeed its philosophical aspects that would arouse and sustain the interest of the young Schiller. Rather than a study of the mechanics and structure of the body, the medical professors saw medicine as the study of the human being as a whole. The new medical school at the Karlschule was very much in the tradition of what was then known as ‘philosophical medicine’.5 The main interest of philosophical medicine was the entire human being, especially the interaction between mind and body. The philosophical doctors stressed that the health of the mind and body were interdependent; and they reacted against the view that the body is simply a machine, as if its health and disease were determined solely by the flow of fluids inside it. They saw medicine as only one part of a new more general science, which they called (p.17) Anthropologie’. Anthopology would insist, true to Pope's dictum, that the most important subject for mankind is mankind; and its approach to its subject was decidedly empirical, stressing the value of observation and experiment. As we shall soon see, Schiller's early philosophy was very much in the anthropological tradition. Indeed, it had a decisive influence on his later writings too. Even after his appropriation of Kant in the 1790s, Schiller would continue to pursue the main goal of anthropology: to understand a human being as a whole. It is striking that, in the Ästhetische Briefe, Schiller claims that the conflicting sides of our nature can be fully reconciled only by ‘the complete anthropological standpoint’.

One of the most important influences upon Schiller during his Karlschule years was his philosophy professor, Jacob Friedrich Abel (1751–1829).6 Shortly after his arrival in the Karlschule in 1775, Abel became a popular teacher, a central figure in the faculty and administration who had gained the confidence of Karl Eugen. It was Abel who gave philosophy its central place in the curriculum of the Karlschule. He believed in the great value of philosophy in education, since it alone taught a student to think for himself about fundamental issues. It is indeed revealing about the significance of philosophy in Schiller's education that he should derive his greatest inspiration as a student from a philosopher. Abel was so important for Schiller mainly because he aroused his enthusiasm and curiosity, gave him intellectual self-confidence, and inspired him toward academic achievement. Before his encounter with Abel in 1775, Schiller had lapsed almost to the bottom of his class, probably due to his disappointment in not studying theology and his disaffection with jurisprudence. By stressing the value of thinking for oneself, Abel showed Schiller that he could be creative in every aspect of intellectual life.

Abel was important to Schiller for other reasons. It was Abel who introduced him to Shakespeare, to the philosophers of the Scottish and French Enlightenment, to the aesthetic writings of Batteux, Home, Riedel, Lessing and Winckelmann. Abel's own philosophy also set the direction of his early interests. In the tradition of German anthropology, Abel's main interest lay in developing an empirical psychology, especially one that would investigate extreme personalities, such as geniuses, heroes, psychopaths and criminals. This inspired the young Schiller, whose early dramas are psychological portraits of extreme personalities. Abel held two speeches before the Karlschule that could have been inspirational for the young Schiller: Entstehung und Kennzeichen grosser Geister (1776), which extols the rights and powers of the genius to follow his own interests and passions regardless of social conventions; and Seelenstärke ist Herrschaft über sich selbst (1777), which stresses a stoic ideal of moral independence, the powers of the soul to resist and (p.18) control strong sensual drives and impulses, the apparent prototype of Schiller's concept of tragic character.7 Although Abel's influence upon Schiller was deep and broad, it would still be a mistake to conclude that his entire intellectual development grew out of Abel's philosophy.8 This underrates not only the powerful influence that Kant would later have upon Schiller but also Schiller's critical attitude toward Abel. Abel taught Schiller to think for himself, even when that meant disagreeing with his teacher. And Schiller would indeed, for reasons we shall soon see, take issue with his teacher.

Schiller's writings during the Karlschule years are devoted almost exclusively to philosophy. There are two speeches written on prescribed questions for festive occasions: ‘Rede über die Frage: Gehört allzuviel Güte, Leutseeligkeit und große Freygebigkeit im engsten Verstande zur Tugend?’ (1779), and ‘Die Tugend in ihren Folgen betrachtet’ (1780). There are also three dissertations. One of them, De discrimine febrium (1780), is essentially medical in content, a theory of fevers. The other two, though, are of direct philosophical interest: Philosophie der Physiologie (1779) and Versuch über den Zusammenhang der thierischen Natur des Menschen mit seiner geistigen (1780).9 These dissertations, very much in the tradition of philosophical medicine, were attempts to determine the relationship between the mental and physical, the intellectual and sensible. We must now examine the content of these writings.


Of all Schiller's early philosophical interests, ethics took pride of place. Both the early speeches were devoted to ethical themes; though they answered prescribed questions, the speeches very much reflected Schiller's personal interests. It is noteworthy that when Abel later reminisced about Schiller's years in the Karlschule he remarked that morals had been of ‘primary importance’ to him.10 It was indeed Schiller's interest in ethics that motivated both his philosophical dissertations.11

The foundation for Schiller's early ethical views came from his answer to one fundamental, though no longer fashionable, question: ‘What is the vocation of man?’ This question was central to German moral philosophy in the late (p.19) eighteenth century, and it was given great popularity through J. J. Spalding's famous 1748 Die Bestimmung des Menschen.12 The vocation of man was a religious formulation for an even more basic question that had dominated classical and medieval ethics: What is the highest good? To ask about the vocation of man was to ask about the end of life, the highest value to which we should devote ourselves; but it was also to inquire into the purpose or meaning of life itself, where the underlying assumption is that this purpose or meaning is created by God. We know the purpose of our lives, it is assumed, if we determine why God has created us, or if we know our role and place in providence. This question had lost much of its importance in early modern moral philosophy; Locke and Hobbes, for example, dismissed it as beneath discussion.13 It is noteworthy, however, that it had lost none of its importance for Shaftesbury, Hutcheson and Ferguson. In his Moralists Shaftesbury explicitly revives it, most probably in reaction against Locke and Hobbes.14 It is also striking that this question was still very much on the agenda of the Karlschule. Schiller's examination theses for 1778 were ‘Philosophische Säze über das höchste Gut’.15

Such was the importance of the topic for the young Schiller that he devoted the introduction of his Philosophie der Physiologie to it. At first blush, his answer to it is strikingly unmodern, not what we would expect for a youth growing up in the age of Enlightenment. It is almost as if we are reading a medieval philosopher when Schiller writes ‘identity with God is the vocation of man’ (Gottgleichheit ist die Bestimmung des Menschen) (NA XX, 10).16 It is the task of man to study nature, he explains, so that he can fathom the plan of creation, the purpose of divine providence. The more we know about this plan, the closer we become to God; and the closer we become to God, the happier we are. In defending his thesis Schiller cites ‘a wise man of the century’. We expect this ‘wise man’ to be a reincarnated Bonaventura or St. Thomas; but it turns out to be Adam Ferguson, a leading light of the Scottish Enlightenment.17 So Schiller's views were not especially medieval after all. In fact, the same theory of the vocation of man was very popular in the (p.20) Aufklärung; it had been championed by such prominent Aufklärer as Spalding, Mendelssohn, Garve and, not least, Abel himself.18

The same question, and a very similar answer, also figures in the opening of Schiller's second Karlschule speech. Here Schiller begins, very much like Shaftesbury in the Inquiry, by trying to determine our fundamental duties from our place within nature and providence. We must see man as a citizen of the great world system, he explains, so that we should determine his duties by his place within it. A good action is that which perfects the world system, or that which promotes the end of God in having created us. All of creation is designed so that everything works toward the perfection of spiritual beings, so that we can determine the worth of our actions according to the degree that they promote the spiritual perfection of the system as a whole (NA XX, 30–1). If we only climb further upwards in the chain of being, Schiller continues, we will find that the perfection of spiritual beings rests upon the imitation of God; we will then see that conformity with the divine nature is the criterion of worth for all moral actions (31). An action has a moral worth, then, only when it promotes the perfection of spiritual existence, and in turn only when it agrees with the essence of that most spiritual being of all, God.

The same teleological-theological doctrine is the basis for Schiller's views on two central ethical topics: the link between perfection and happiness, and the connection between individual and social good. The plan of providence is such, Schiller argues, that God has created a natural link between perfection and happiness. There is a wise law of creation, he writes in the Philosophie der Physiologie, that joins perfection with pleasure, so that what perfects a person's nature makes them feel pleasure, and what harms their nature makes them feel pain (NA XX, 11). The sum of the greatest perfection is therefore also the sum of the greatest pleasure; and since the sum of pleasure is the same as happiness, ‘it is the same whether one says: man exists to perfect himself or man exists to be happy’ (11). There is another wise law of creation, Schiller adds, that connects the perfection or happiness of the whole with the perfection or happiness of the individual. We are not solitary but social by nature, so that we perfect ourselves only if we become part of and contribute to society as a whole. Hence we as individuals enjoy what makes the whole more perfect and happy. This beneficent order, which has so tightly connected the good of the individual with society, means that there is the closest connection between virtue and happiness.

Also of central importance for Schiller's early ethics was the meaning of virtue, a key theme of both Karlschule speeches. In his first speech, he defines virtue as ‘the harmonic bond of love and wisdom’ (NA XX, 4,5). In the second, he gives a similar account: virtue is ‘wise good will’ (weises Wohlwollen) (32). He drops a tantalizing hint about the provenance of his definition when he attempts to support it by (p.21) appealing to ‘some of the greatest wisemen of this century’ (32). This is almost certainly a reference to all, or some combination of, the British sentimentalists, viz. Shaftesbury, Smith, Ferguson and Hutcheson. It is indeed in his account of virtue that we can determine Schiller's great debt to the British sentimentalists, who had always insisted on the priority of feeling over reason in determining our moral obligations. The theme of the first speech is that virtue consists in both love and wisdom, and that neither of these alone is sufficient for it. It is striking, however, that Schiller limits the role of the intellect in the same manner as the British sentimentalists. He stresses that the intellect must first determine whether an inclination leads to happiness, and then which inclination results in the greatest happiness (NA XX, 3). The intellect does not, though, determine the goals or ends of action itself. Like the sentimentalists, Schiller holds that these goals or ends are determined by the passions or sentiments, first and foremost among them, love.

Love was the young Schiller's favorite theme, the very heart of his early ethics. No other value did he praise so highly, no other did he consider more important. Both the early speeches contain florid passages in praise of love. Love is the creative force that made nature and man, who should honor and bow before it (7–8). Love is the great bond of the spiritual universe. It is to the spiritual world what the power of gravity is to the physical world: it makes everyone come together in harmony. Love makes God descend to his creatures, it makes his creatures ascend to God (32). It brings all mankind together as the sons and daughters of a single loving father. The immediate inspiration for Schiller's early concept of love comes neither from Platonism nor Protestantism but, again, British sentimentalism. Shaftesbury, Hutcheson and Ferguson saw the source of morality as benevolence, which they identified with love.19

The cause of love seems so noble and pure, as Schiller presents it, that it appears to stand above all reproof and objection. But Schiller knew all too well that his theory had a potent enemy: egoism, the doctrine that all human action is motivated by self-interest. His own theory of love was indeed a reaction against egoism. He found the most notorious protagonist of this doctrine in Claude-Adrien Helvétius, whose posthumous book, De l'homme, was well known in the Karlschule.20 Helvétius had argued that all social bonds are ultimately based on self-interest, and that love and benevolence are ultimately only means to one's personal happiness. The young Schiller was very much caught up in the battle between ‘the system of (p.22) benevolence’ and ‘the system of egoism’, a controversy which began in early eighteenth-century Britain in the disputes between the sentimentalists and the materialists (Hobbes and Mandeville). The controversy surfaces time and again in his early ethical writings, and we shall consider below how Schiller attempts to resolve it (1.5). Its most vivid incarnation is Franz Moor in Die Räuber, who represents the groping egoist who wants to overthrow all ethical values in the pursuit of his selfish ends (NA III, 19).

Apart from the lurking enemy of egoism, Schiller's early ethics paints a remarkably optimistic picture of the world. A loving God creates man and nature; and the purpose of his creation is nothing more than human happiness and perfection. Furthermore, it is easy for human beings to achieve these ends, for there is no conflict between self-interest and virtue, personal happiness and perfection. If we know our true self-interest, we cultivate virtue and perfection, because our self-interest is inextricably linked with the good of the social whole. The wheels of the system would turn smoothly—it would naturally achieve its intended end—if people simply act in the very same spirit as their creator: the spirit of love. Of course, such optimism was not unique to Schiller; it was the spirit of the dominant philosophy of the Aufklärung, the Leibnizian-Wolffian system, which saw this as the best of all possible worlds.

Inevitably, such optimism could not last. In the 1780s Schiller began to realize that Dr Pangloss's philosophy is really only what Voltaire said it was: a beautiful fantasy. There is no room for tragedy in such a picture of the universe; and in the 1780s, for many reasons, Schiller began to find life deeply tragic. He would come to see that virtue is often achieved only at the cost of suffering, that love can be an egoistic delusion, that people usually cannot achieve spiritual perfection because they have to struggle to survive, and that there are conflicts in duty that destroy even the purest souls. The rosy optimism of Leibnizian-Wolffian rationalism could not withstand the experience of life, which it would soon be Schiller's purpose as a poet and dramatist to explore.

Besides its naive optimism, there is another fundamental flaw in Schiller's early ethics. It suffers from a basic tension, one that Schiller will have to wrestle with throughout his intellectual career. This tension arises from its conflicting answers to the question of the highest good. On the one hand, Schiller is explicit and emphatic that the vocation of man is to perfect his spiritual nature, especially his moral and intellectual powers. This aspect of his ethics is especially evident when, following the Chistian tradition, he makes the contemplation of God the highest value and end of life. On the other hand, however, Schiller is no less clear and firm that the purpose of life is to develop our complete humanity, which includes not only the spiritual but also the physical, not only the intellectual but also the sensible, sides of our nature. This was indeed the central thesis of the Versuch, which in several places defines human perfection exactly in such holistic terms (41, 23–9; 64, 5–8; 68, 11). It is a great mistake, Schiller argues there, to regard a human being as a disembodied spirit or intellect, for whom the body is nothing more than (p.23) a prison. This is the error of the stoics, which should be avoided at all costs. While he stresses that it is no less an error to overrate the physical side of our nature, as the Epicureans once did, he still thinks that the more common error is to give overdue attention to the moral and intellectual side of our nature. The whole thrust of the Versuch is then to show how our physical and sensible nature plays an important and indispensable role in our well-being. In stressing his holistic conception and the physical side of our nature, Schiller was taking a much more modern tack, showing his indebtedness to the Empfindsamkeit movement of the 1760s, which would attempt to reclaim human sensibility as an essential part of our humanity.

The young Schiller was still not ready to resolve such a basic tension, which required taking some very radical steps. To follow Empfindsamkeit to its bitter end meant a complete break with the Christian tradition. For if the development of our complete humanity is the highest good, and if humanity has a sensible and physical side, it follows that the highest good has to be realized here on earth. After all, it is only here that we have a sensible and physical nature to develop. There would be no need, therefore, for the postulate of immortality, which is necessary only to support the Christian conception of the highest good. In the Karlschule, however, Schiller was nowhere near to giving up this postulate, which he still regarded as a necessary incentive for virtue.

Schiller will eventually resolve this tension in favour of the more modern and worldly conception of the highest good. This will happen only later in the 1780s, however, when he moves away from Christianity and toward a more secular and neo-pagan view of the world. Fortunately, he will have a precedent, indeed a model, in his struggle to resolve this tension: Christian Martin Wieland (see 3.5). Still, as we shall eventually see, echoes of this tension resurface in Schiller's later philosophy. It will be the source of a basic ambiguity in Schiller's concept of grace in Anmut und Würde, which can be defined in both spiritualist and holistic terms.


According to an old interpretation, Schiller's early philosophy is fundamentally monistic and holistic, devoted to overcoming the dualisms between mind and body, intellect and sensibility, in a single unified conception of the self. It was this early tendency of Schiller's thought—so the interpretation goes—that later collided with Kant's dualisms and that led to the efforts to resolve them in Anmut und Würde and the Aesthetische Briefe. On this view, then, Schiller's philosophical development consists in an attempt to reconcile his early monism and holism with his later Kantian dualisms. It sees Schiller as an essentially reluctant and heretical Kantian who could never really accept the critical dualisms.

There are some important elements of truth to this interpretation. The young Schiller was devoted to bridging dualisms and developing a unified conception of (p.24) the self. This was the inheritance of philosophical medicine, and indeed the chief goal of both early dissertations. Furthermore, Schiller's early endeavour continued after his adoption of Kant's philosophy in the early 1790s. He wrestled with the Kantian dualisms in the 1790s as he had once struggled with the Cartesian dualisms in the late 1770s. However, there is still something very misleading about this interpretation, a lurking error that has to be removed if Schiller's entire intellectual development is not to be misunderstood. Namely, it is a serious mistake to think that the young Schiller's philosophy is opposed in principle to dualism. The very opposite is the case: Schiller explicitly reaffirmed and passionately argued for dualism. His problem was how to explain the interaction between the mental and physical, the intellectual and sensible, given that there is a fundamental difference in kind between these entities. Schiller's attempts to bridge these dualisms—it must be stressed—essentially took place within the presuppositions of the Cartesian dualistic tradition. Hence, Schiller's concern was not simply to establish unity but unity within difference. The goal of his early, and indeed later, philosophy was not merely wholeness but harmony, unity amid tension.21

Once we fully accept this point, Schiller's later adoption of Kant seems much more intelligible and straightforward. Schiller was happy to accept Kant's dualistic philosophy because his own early philosophy was already fundamentally dualistic, and indeed, as we shall soon see, for reasons very similar to Kant's. Hence, when Schiller later attempted to bridge Kant's dualisms, he was simply continuing his early anthropological project begun with the Cartesian dualisms.

The evidence for Schiller's early dualism is striking, straightforward, and overwhelming. Several facts should be taken into account. First, throughout both dissertations, Schiller described the mind and body in classic Cartesian terms, so that there is a firm dualism between them. Hence he writes that the mind is simple and indivisible while the body is compound and divisible (NA XX, 44, 5–6; 48, 17–21); that the mind is penetrable, not occupying any definite space, whereas the body is impenetrable, resisting any body that would take its space (12, 27–30); and that the mind is spontaneous, acting from its own inner causes, while the body is inert, moving only if it is moved upon (20, 28–32; 26, 30–5; 46, 6–10). Second, in the Philosophie der Physiologie, Schiller flatly rejected the two most common monistic theories of the late eighteenth century: materialism and idealism. (p.25) He dismissed materialism because it could not explain the sui generis characteristics of the mind on the basis of mechanism (12, 30–3); and he scorned idealism because it turned all reality into a mere dream, into nothing more than the play of my own representations (13, 1–9). Third, in the Versuch, Schiller postulates a harmony between two very different kinds of sentiments, one intellectual and the other physical. While he thinks that there is some interaction between them, he assigns each to different ontological domains (NA XX, 45–6).

Nothing more plainly reveals Schiller's endorsement of dualism than his critique of Abel's hypothesis that the soul is an impenetrable substance.22 In his Seelenlehre, Abel had argued that if we only assume that the soul is impenetrable then we can explain its interactions within the natural world; it will then obey the laws of attraction and repulsion like all other matter.23 But Schiller did not hesitate to criticize his teacher's hypothesis, fearing that it led down the slippery slope toward materialism. ‘But who can separate the concept of matter from impenetrability?’,he asked rhetorically in the Philosophie der Physiologie (NA XX, 12, 28–30). Apparently, Abel was not sufficiently dualistic for his young student.

The motives for Schiller's allegiance to dualism were essentially moral and religious. If the mind were only material, there would be no reason to believe in immortality because the mind, like all compound substances, would be dissolvable (12, 30–5). If, conversely, the world were only mental, all reality would become a dream and we would have no reason to be held responsible for our actions (13, 6–7). It is noteworthy, however, that there is one moral belief that Schiller was especially eager to defend on the basis of his dualism: moral freedom. In both dissertations, Schiller argues avidly that our intellectual powers of attention and abstraction show our spontaneity, our independence from the determination of the senses and the external world; it is thanks to these powers that we have the capacity to diminish, though never to destroy, the influence of the senses (NA XX, 26–7, 46). In his 1789 ‘Themata zu einer Streitschrift’, where Schiller proposed topics for his second dissertation, he revealed that one of the most important subjects he had been thinking about in the past year had been ‘On the Freedom and Morality of human beings’ (NA XXI, 124). While he never wrote the dissertation on this topic, solely due to the advice of his teachers who found it unsuitable for a medical faculty, its significance for him is still reflected in many (p.26) places in the Versuch where Schiller attempts to defend the belief in freedom. The young Schiller's use of dualism to support this belief is another reason why it was easy for him to assimilate Kant's philosophy, whose dualism is based on similar motivations.

Having postulated two heterogeneous substances, Schiller's problem was then to explain the interaction between them. It is striking that Schiller posed the problem in classical dualistic terms. In the Versuch he wrote that the soul and body are like two well-tuned instruments: when one struck a string in one, the same string sounded in the other; the problem, however, is to explain ‘the wonderful and remarkable sympathy’ between such ‘heterogeneous principles’ (64, 4–7). So Schiller faced the classic Cartesian difficulty. If the mind were not within space, how could something in space act upon it? The mechanical model of explanation of Cartesian physics had explained all causation in terms of impact, by how much a body changes place when another acts upon it. But if the mind were not within space, it could not be acted upon or moved. In that case, however, it seemed as if the mind could not be explained at all, falling outside the naturalistic worldview as a ‘ghost in the machine’.

Painfully aware of this very difficulty, Schiller still insisted that interaction is a fact. The testimony of experience is undeniable, even if what it reveals is also inexplicable: the mind acts on the body, the body acts on the mind. For this reason he swore his allegiance to the influxus physicus, the doctrine that there could be an interchange between such heterogeneous substances, the favorite theory among the German anthropologists. Accordingly, Schiller rejected the two alternative dualistic theories of the eighteenth century: occasionalism and pre-established harmony. The problem with occasionalism is that it made a miracle out of interaction: every time matter acts upon mind, God must intervene to give it this power (NA XX, 13). The problem with the pre-established harmony is that it makes mind and world completely independent, so that the mind could have all its representations even if the world did not exist (13).

From a broader historical viewpoint, it is striking that Schiller did not seem to be aware of one of the most important monistic theories of the late eighteenth century. This was the organicist theory that there is only a difference in degree between mind and body because both are simply stages in the development and organization of living force. This theory has its origins in the esoteric Leibniz, and more specifically in his doctrine of vis viva; it was later developed into an explicit monistic doctrine by Herder, Jacobi and Schelling toward the end of the eighteenth century. It was this theory that would later play a fundamental role in the development of German idealism, when it became a cardinal tenet of the absolute idealism of Schelling, Hölderlin and Hegel. The crucial move behind this theory is the denial of Cartesian mechanism, and more specifically its central underlying claim that the essence of matter consists in extension. It is telling, however, that Schiller, who insists that matter is inert, impenetrable and extended in classic Cartesian manner, refuses to make this important move. This is noteworthy (p.27) because it places Schiller firmly outside the organicist tradition, into which his early philosophy is all too often placed.24 In this respect, then, Schiller cannot be regarded as an ancestor of Schelling's and Hegel's objective idealism.

Schiller's early metaphysics has sometimes been placed within the organicist tradition because of his apparent sympathy for the vitalistic theory of G. E. Stahl. In the eighteenth century Stahl's theory found much support as an alternative to the purely mechanical conception of the human body. In his Theoria medica vera (1707), Stahl challenged mechanism with the thesis that the human body is organized and directed by a governing vital force or anima.25 If this anima should leave the body, the result is death, the complete corruption of organic matter. Stahl explained illness and disease as the result of disturbances in the governing force rather than as products of mechanical disfunctions or obstructions. Stahl's views were well known in the Karlschule where some students, though few professors, regarded them sympathetically. For this reason, Schiller's own early physiology has been interpreted as essentially Stahlian.26 But, in this regard, it is necessary to make two points. First, Schiller was not especially sympathetic to Stahl. While he did think Stahl was right to stress the influence of the mind over the body, he did not think that it is necessary to postulate a special anima to account for it (NA XX, 69–70); and he dismissed as fantasy Stahl's views that all physical disease could be cured by treatment of the mind alone.27 Second, even if Schiller were sympathetic to Stahl, there is still a fundamental difference between Stahl's vitalism and Herder's organicism. Namely, Stahl's doctrine essentially concerns organic matter and not matter as such; it does not dispute dualism in general but only the dualism between the mind and the human body. Herder's doctrine, however, is a general metaphysical thesis against dualism, one which denies that matter consists in extension and which claims there is no difference in kind between the mental and physical because they are different degrees of organization and development of living force.

Given that Schiller endorses dualism, how does he attempt to explain the interaction between mind and body? It was the central purpose of his Philosophie der Physiologie to settle this conundrum. Showing much speculative daring, Schiller (p.28) resorted to the hypothesis of a Mittelkraft, a mediating power that is partly material and partly mental (NA XX, 13). This mediating power connects mind and body because they act upon one another through it; each acts directly on it, and it in turn acts on them (13). Since this power is the condition under which we have perceptions, it cannot be directly perceived itself; but it is still possible to know of its existence through its effects (16). Schiller declares that he has finally come to the firm conviction that, though it is imperceptible, this mediating power inheres in ‘an infinitely fine, simple and moveable being’ (Weesen), which flows in the nervous sytem. Hence he sometimes calls the power Nervengeist (16). The nervous spirit transmits through the nerve channels the stimuli of the external world that reach the senses; these stimuli are then transformed by the mind into representations (17–19). Regarding the precise nature of the medium of transmission of the nervous spirit—whether it is by vibrations or a fluid—Schiller refuses to speculate further, warning that this is a field where many a ‘metaphysical Don Quixote’ has come to ruin (16).

The Mittelkraft hypothesis is, of course, a desperate strategem. It seems to explain the interaction only by invoking a power that is inexplicable itself. Its critics dismissed such a Zwitterding as an Unding on the grounds that it is self-contradictory: it would have to be both penetrable and impenetrable, divisible and indivisible. Schiller realized that it seemed self-contradictory, but insisted that it had to exist all the same. Here he rested his case on nothing more than Hamlet's maxim: ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,/Than are dreamt of in your philosophy’.28

Schiller's theorizing is less fantastic and more defensible, however, once we place it in context. The idea that there is an entity between mind and body had never disappeared in early modern theories of the mind. The Cambridge Platonist Henry More, for example, had protested against Cartesian dualism on the grounds that the soul could also exist in space, and he postulated the extra dimension of ‘essential Spißitude’ to account for this strange kind of non-material extension.29 The struggle against dualism had kept this kind of theory very much alive in eighteenth-century Germany, where one version or the other was defended by F. C. von Creuz, F. C. Oetinger, G. Ploucquet and J. F. Abel.30 Their works would have been familiar to Schiller, who almost certainly knew of the theory. All its versions postulated the soul as a kind of mediating entity between a more spiritual mind and a more material body. Yet Schiller gives this theory a novel twist, and it is here that his main contribution to the problem lay. He located the Mittelding not in the soul but in the nervous fluid itself. This move seemed very strategic: it seemed to provide the basis for explaining the interaction between mind and body (p.29) while removing the dangers of materialism resulting from attributing indivisibility or extension to the soul itself. Still, whatever its dialectical advantages, the theory is still intrinsically fragile. It is not surprising, therefore, that Schiller dropped any mention of it in his second dissertation.


Undoubtedly, the most remarkable work of Schiller's early philosophy is his Philosophische Briefe, which first appeared in the Thalia in 1786. The work is at once both a confession and retraction, a statement and self-critique, of Schiller's early philosophical beliefs. The Briefe pretends to be an epistolary exchange between Julius, an aspiring young philosopher, and Raphael, his older and wiser teacher. While Schiller speaks through the character of Julius, Raphael plays a role like his old mentor, Abel.31 In a section entitled Theosophie des Julius, Julius gives a brief and passionate exposition of his early philosophical credo. We can recognize within it many of the cardinal doctrines of Schiller's early speeches and dissertations in the Karlschule. Now, however, Julius distances himself from his confession, claiming that it comes from a lost earlier essay he has found in his papers. The credo expressed in the Theosophie, Julius frankly admits, is the work of a naive and impetuous youth, one who has created a philosophy that addresses the needs of his heart more than the demands of his reason. Although Julius does not denounce or abandon his earlier philosophy, he believes in it no longer and does not know how to resolve his doubts about it. Raphael has created a spiritual crisis for Julius. He has encouraged Julius to think for himself, to accept no belief as true unless it meets the standards of his own critical reason. So, seeing many of his early beliefs lack sufficient proof, Julius is now set adrift on doubt's boundless sea; he begs assistance from his teacher, who, however, tells him that he must cure himself by resolving his own doubts. Schiller leaves his reader with Julius's crisis. Though he vindicates Julius's philosophy as a necessary stage in the development of his character and in the investigation of the truth, he does not attempt to resolve Julius's general skepticism. Schiller proposed a much longer work where the conflicting claims of both correspondents would be resolved in ‘a general, purified and well-founded truth’ (108). But the longer work was never written.

(p.30) What brought on Julius's, crisis of doubt? What intellectual tumult did Schiller go through from 1782 to 1786 that he now had such reservations about his early philosophy? Obviously, the question is of crucial importance for an understanding of Schiller's philosophical development; but it admits of no simple or definitive answers. There is some evidence that Schiller had been exposed to Hume's skepticism in the Natural History of Religion.32 While he might not have read this work himself—it had been available in translation since 1759—he would have learned about the thrust of its argument from Abel, who had discussed it in his lectures. (This is one reason why Abel fits the role of Raphael in the Briefe.) It has sometimes been suggested that Schiller's skepticism was a response to Kant.33 But this is unlikely. Schiller's intensive study of Kant will begin only in 1790. In his April 18, 1788, letter to Körner he picks up the suggestion that he should read Kant; but he then admits that he is still not ready for the dry and dreary study of epistemology (NA XXV, 40). In any case, if Schiller were responding to Kant, it must be said he was not a very good student; for he was hardly appreciative of Kant's challenge to metaphysics. For all his skepticism in the Briefe, Schiller does not proscribe metaphysics in general; he thinks only that there is something problematic about his metaphysics in particular.

If there is little evidence regarding external influences on Schiller, there are also few hints in the Briefe itself. Julius refers to the general dangers of free-thinking and skepticism—‘the paroxysms of the fever of the human spirit’—and he fears his system will collapse with the first shove of materialism. But he is not very specific about how these doubts undermine his beliefs or which beliefs are affected. There is one place, however, where Schiller does reveal his doubts regarding one fundamental doctrine: the belief in providence, the divine creation and government of the universe. As we have seen, this belief is crucial to Schiller's early ethics, the foundation for his beliefs in the vocation of man and the harmony between virtue and happiness (1.2). But now this belief begins to waver. At one point Julius confesses that he cannot understand God's creation of the universe. If God is perfect, why did he create me now and not from eternity? Why did he create humanity later than nature? Since the world must be better with humanity, it seems that he did not act from the beginning according to his infinite goodness. Although the point is not made explicit, Julius hints where his doubts are heading: atheism. For he asks: if God is not a creator, is he really a God at all? (110)

Not surprisingly, Julius's doubts about providence reflect Schiller's own growing skepticism in the early 1780s. If we consider some of Schiller's writings during these years we find him questioning, though not entirely rejecting, the Christian doctrine of a providential order. His doubts are especially apparent from his Spaziergang unter den Linden, a short dialogue which Schiller wrote in the beginning of 1782 for (p.31) the Wirtembergische Reportorium. This dialogue represents a dispute between the pessimistic and cynical Wollmar and the optimistic and idealistic Edwin. While the dialogue ends in an aporia where both speakers have some right on their side, it is significant that Wollmar's position has a justification all its own. Wollmar is a materialist who thinks that ‘the fate of the soul is written in the body’ (NA XXII, 76). There is no room for providence or immortality in his concept of nature. Nature follows a cycle, reworking and feeding off her own creations, like ‘a dirty monster who feeds off her own excrement’ (74). The order of nature is not such that people attain perfection or happiness, because most of them have to struggle only to survive. Since nature is a scene of constant destruction, despair and death, all for no purpose or reward, it does not give witness to a wise creator. So Wollmar screams his challenge to Edwin: ‘Justify the potter from his pot!’ (78).

Some of the poems of the 1780s go further than skepticism: they protest against the very idea of a providential order where virtue is rewarded and vice is punished only in the afterlife. In the 1784 poem Freigeisterei der Leidenschaften, for example, the poet protests against the bonds of duty that demand squelching his passion for a married woman (NA I, 163–5). He has sworn to his goddess that he would follow the path of righteousness, but he now wants to break the pact that causes him so much suffering. There is no heavenly reward that can compensate for his present loss, and there is no higher good than the passions he could satisfy here on earth. The poem Resignation, also written in 1784, voices a similar complaint against providence: the poet now asks himself whether it was right for him to sacrifice his happiness on earth for moral redemption in the afterlife (I, 166–9). A spirit tells the poet that we all have to choose between two principles: hope or enjoyment, the prospect of eternity or the pleasures of the earth. We cannot have both; and whatever we choose will affect us forever; either we forfeit eternal happiness or the enjoyment of this life. Here Schiller does not decide for one principle or the other; but it is already striking that he thinks that we must choose between these principles.34 In the early philosophy they were not at odds with one another: the providential order guaranteed that the striving for perfection would bring happiness, whether in this life or the next.

Another crucial development of the early 1780s—one that fits hand-in-glove with his doubts about providence—is Schiller's movement toward a more humanistic ethic. We have already seen how in the Karlschule years Schiller's ethic made spiritual perfection the highest good, how it made the imitation of God into the vocation of man. We also saw, however, how Schiller also held, somewhat inconsistently, that the highest good is the full development of our humanity, where (p.32) humanity includes sensibility as well as reason. It is noteworthy that, in the early 1780s, Schiller began to resolve this tension in favor of the more humanistic, less Christian doctrine. Hence, some of the poems of the early 1780s—Rousseau, Klopstock und Wieland, An einen Moralisten, Kastration und Männer—tend toward humanism or praise the realm of the senses, stressing how they deserve cultivation for their own sake.35 Such a development was indeed inevitable: if love is the preeminent value, as Schiller had preached, it cannot be separated from eros, its physical embodiment. It is also significant that Schiller's poetic ideal during this time was not the Christian heaven but the pagan Elysium, where one could escape the realm of death and time but still enjoy the human pleasures of the senses.36 Nowhere is Schiller's new humanistic this-worldly ethic more apparent, though, than in some lines he wrote to L. F. Huber in October 1785:

Enthusiasm is the bold powerful impetus that throws the ball in the air; but he is a fool who would expect the ball to run on forever in the same direction and with the same velocity. The ball makes an arc, because its force breaks in the air … Do not glance over this allegory, my friend, for it is more than a poetic fancy; if you think about it carefully you will find the fate of all human plans suggested in such a symbol. We all strive and aim to reach the zenith, like a rocket, but we all make the same arc and fall back to mother earth. Still this arc is so beautiful!! (NA XXIV, 26)

Besides Schiller's skepticism about providence and his growing humanism, there was another important motif behind his new thinking that made him distance himself from his early philosophy. This motif concerns Schiller's views about philosophy itself. In the 1780s, Schiller came more and more to the conviction that a philosophy is a personal statement, and as such reflects the personality, physiology and age of the philosopher. In Spaziergang, Wollmar stresses how much our thinking depends on our physical state. A glass of wine can make the devil seem nice, a bad stomach can ruin the planet for us (NA XXII, 76). In Der Jungling und der Greis, a short dialogue appended to Spaziergang, we also learn how much philosophy depends on age: the youth sees life as striving toward high ideals, whereas the old man advises contentment with one's lot. This doctrine reaches its apex in the introduction to the Philosophische Briefe where the author tells us that reason has its epochs and its fate just like the heart. The opinions expressed in the dialogues, the author explains, are only relatively true or false, i.e. they reflect the world only from the standpoint of the individual (NA XX, 108). Schiller could not except his own philosophy from such a doctrine, and in doing so he now had to admit its own merely relative truth. Hence, in the conclusion of the Briefe, Julius defends his theosophy on the grounds that, however illusory, it has at least beautified his life.


By far the most fascinating part of the Philosophische Briefe is the ‘Theosophie des Julius’, where Julius gives a short sketch of his earlier worldview and ethics. There is some truth to Julius's pretension that the ‘Theosophie’ is an old lost essay he found among his papers. Most of the ‘Theosophie’ does represent Schiller's earlier philosophy from the Karlschule; it is an epitome of the metaphysical and ethical views of his early speeches and dissertations. However, it would be a mistake to think that there is nothing new in the ‘Theosophie’, for it contains ideas that we do not find in the earlier material, viz. the appearance of hermetic ideas. Furthermore, some sections contradict or take issue with Schiller's earlier beliefs (as we shall soon see). On these grounds we must be careful in treating Julius's claims that the ‘Theosophie’ is simply an earlier essay, as if it were already written and he were simply inserting it into the Briefe. This is only a literary fiction, which should not be taken too literally, as if Schiller wrote most of the ‘Theosophie’ already in his Karlschule years.37 When exactly the ‘Theosophie’ was written remains obscure; but parts of it, and perhaps even all of it, were written later when Schiller was already troubled by some of his earlier views. The whole tone of the ‘Theosophie’ is indeed one of nostalgia and reminscence; it is written with melan-choly, distance and detachment, not with the fervour of present conviction.

What, then, does Schiller say in his ‘Theosophie’? Its contents deserve the closest attention because it is the best epitome of Schiller's early philosophy, and because it offers hints about how Schiller's thinking was changing in the 1780s.

The first section of the ‘Theosophie’, entitled ‘The World and Thinking Being’, is a grand cosmology. We are told bluntly in its opening sentence: ‘The world is the thought of God’ (115). This sentence reflects Schiller's early faith in providence, his belief in the divine creation and government of the universe, which was the basis of his entire early ethics. Julius also reaffirms Schiller's earlier views about the vocation of man. Just as in the first dissertation and Karlschule speeches, the highest good is to achieve spiritual perfection, and in doing so to imitate the divine spirit who has created us all. Since God has created nature according to a plan, Julius argues, it is (p.34) the vocation of all thinking beings to determine this plan from the phenomena of nature. We become close to God by knowing the reasons he created us and nature. The contemplation of harmony, order, and beauty gives me great joy, he says, because they put me in the situation of their creator and allow me to feel my affinity with him (116). The reaffirmation of Schiller's earlier doctrine is all the more striking at the close of the Briefe when Julius declares that all spirits create from four elements—oneself, nature, god and the future—and that, though they mix these elements in all kinds of different ways, there is one truth that remains in all religions and systems: ‘Come close to the God that you believe’ (129).

So far, then, there is nothing new to Schiller's cosmology, nothing that could not be already found in the Karlschule writings. But Julius then introduces and stresses a doctrine that is not so evident in them: the ancient idea of the liber naturae, the thesis that nature is the secret language of God. The great system of the world is remarkable, Julius says, because it symbolizes the many manifestations of the divine being. The laws of nature are ciphers that the creator has put together to make itself comprehensible to other rational beings; they are the alphabet by which the infinite mind communicates with all finite minds (116). Everything inside and outside us is a hieroglyph of a power similar to our own; and every state of the soul has its parable in physical creation, viz. fire signifies activity, a stream the flow of time, a circle eternity, the sun truth, and so on (116). Hence Julius says that the universe around him is peopled with spirits. Where there is a body, there is a spirit; and where there is motion there are thoughts (116–7).

The cosmology of the Briefe has been read along Herderian lines, as evidence for Schiller's adherence to organicism and vitalism.38 But if this were the case there would be a conflict with the dualistic metaphysics of the other Karlschule writings. Organicism or vitalism means that there is no fundamental difference in kind between mind and body; both are different degrees of organization and development of living force. But nothing in Schiller's thesis commits him to such a doctrine. Although the universe is now animated, that is not because it is a manifestation of living force but because it is a symbol of a spirit. There can still be a dualism in substance between sign and signifier, just as there can be a difference in kind between a word written on a page and the concept by which it is understood.

The next section of the theosophy, entitled simply ‘Idea’, is a kind of moral epistemology. Julius describes what happens to the soul when it perceives some perfection, something good or beautiful. He states that all spirits are attracted toward perfection, which consists in the free expression of their powers. They attempt to extend their activity, to draw everything into themselves, and to make it their own (117). It would seem, then, that knowledge consists in making objects conform to us, a kind of proto-Kantian doctrine. But as Julius's explanation continues it becomes clear that he means almost the very reverse. We appropriate the (p.35) good and the beautiful only insofar as we become like them. To internalize objects means that our nature should conform to them rather than they should conform to us. As Julius puts it: ‘We ourselves become the perceived’. Rather than Kant, this is the Platonic eros, the doctrine that the love of the good makes us want to unite with it and to turn into it. On the defensive, Julius suspects that such a doctrine might make Raphael smirk; but he begs Raphael to hear him out, stressing that everything that follows will depend on it (117). And so indeed it does. Schiller uses this Platonic doctrine to support two essential theses of his early ethics: that there is a necessary connection between perfection and pleasure, and that there is a necessary link between self-interest and the interest of others (119). Julius now argues along the following lines. Every perfection that I perceive gives me pleasure because I make it my own and extend my own activity in doing so. When, therefore, I perceive the perfection of others, I also make it my own, and so it too gives me pleasure. Therefore, if I love myself—if I desire to increase my own pleasures—I should also strive for the perfection of others (119). Hence Julius concludes that if I love myself I should also desire the happiness of others. To desire their happiness, he then adds, means benevolence or love.

After introducing the theme of love, Julius announces that he has now scaled the heights, the fog has lifted, and he stands in the midst of a blooming landscape, in the center of the immeasurable (119). Love is the most beautiful phenomenon in creation, the source of devotion, and the omnipotent magnet of the spiritual world. It is a reflection of the single infinite power of creation, the force of attraction of the spiritual world. It is this power of love that so tightly connects self-interest and the interest of others. When I hate someone I take from myself; when I love I become richer through the other (120). Here Schiller perhaps has in mind Shakespeare's Juliet: ‘the more I give to thee,/The more I have.’39 It is really only love that enriches our life and that makes it worth living, Julius believes. Misanthropy is extended suicide; and egoism is the greatest poverty of a created being (120). Such is Julius's enthusiasm for love that he extends it to everything in the creation. There are moments in life, he says, when we must press to our heart every flower, every distant star, every worm, and every higher spirit (121). We must embrace all of nature as if she were our love. If each person loved every other, then each would possess the entire world. Julius admits that this faith in love has been called into question by the philosophy of his day. Although he mentions no names, he almost certainly has in mind thinkers like Hobbes, Mandeville and Helvetius, who reduce all feelings down to forms of self-love. But in response to their doctrines, Julius can only swear his personal faith in unselfish love (122). If there is no such love, he will give up god, immortality and virtue (122).

It was a moving confession of faith, one that would inspire the young romantics. But how much of Schiller was really behind Julius? In his April 14, 1783, letter to Reinwald, Schiller looked at love from a much more realistic, indeed cynical, (p.36) standpoint: ‘Love, my friend, the great infallible bond of sensitive creation, is ultimately only a happy illusion’ (NA XXIII, 79). The illusion, Schiller goes on to explain, is that we surrender to the beloved when in reality we really only love ourselves. This more skeptical assessment of love does not appear in the theosophy, not surprisingly because it would have been completely out of character with the piece as a whole. However, the very next section, ‘Sacrifice’, does introduce another more sobering reflection about love. Julius now notes that it cannot be the case that working for the happiness of others always increases his own happiness, because sometimes striving for their happiness demands sacrificing his own life (122). Surely, we cannot regard death as a means to increase the sum of our own happiness. It does not help here, Julius argues, to say that a person who sacrifices his life will receive their eternal reward in heaven; for this is really only to appeal to their egoism. All true love excludes the motivation behind a reward (122). Ignoring his earlier insistence that self-interest and morality are mutually supportive, Julius now claims that love and egoism divide humanity into two completely heterogeneous groups whose borders never flow into one another. While egoism erects its middle point in oneself, love puts its centre in the eternal whole (123). The section is remarkable because it questions rather than confesses his early philosophy. Schiller now doubts two theses central to his earlier philosophy: the value of the belief in immortality; and the harmony between self-interest and morality.

The ‘Theosophie’ concludes with a theology, a short section entitled ‘Gott’. Here Julius applies metaphors from the hermetic and Cabbalistic tradition to explain the relationship between God and his creation. We are told that God and nature are two quantities that are perfectly the same. What exists together in God exists separately in nature. Nature is simply an infinitely divided God (124). Just as in a prism white light divides into seven darker rays, so the divine ego has broken into innumerable particular substances. The prism is the form of nature, and the play of its colours are all the activities of finite minds. If this prism were to be smashed, then God and his creation would merge into one. In a striking turn of thought Schiller now reverses his metaphor. Just as the single divine ray separates itself into many rays, so the many rays can merge together and again become a single ray. This suggests the heterodox idea that all finite spiritual beings can come together again and create a single divine being. Julius knows that the idea is heretical—he asks Raphael if he dares to express it—but he goes on to develop it all the same. If everyone were only to love one another, Julius imagines, then they would overcome the separations between spiritual beings and create a single spiritual being, which would be God (124). Nowhere in the earlier writings did Schiller ever take the love metaphor so far. In them he always understood God as an infinite spiritual being that we should strive to imitate; but now he suggests that God is an ideal that we create through our own activity.

The Briefe ends with Julius's apology for his philosophy. Although Julius realizes that his philosophy will sound like little more than a fantasy, he still claims that it has ennobled his heart and beautified his life (126). He not only admits that his theory might be wrong but he even stresses that it must be; still, he thinks that (p.37) its final results agree with the truth all the same. To explain this surprising claim, Julius sketches a remarkable general epistemology.40 All of our knowledge reduces down to a conventional illusion, he says, though it is still compatible with truth in the strictest sense. When we attempt to grasp the supersensible, Julius explains, all that we have to go on are sensible signs, which are at best metaphors for their objects. For this reason we should never expect our ideas to be images of things, as if they somehow resemble them. Rather, our ideas are only signs that have a merely conventional relation to their objects. What makes something true is not the resemblance between the idea and the thing but the conformity of the idea with the necessary laws of thought (127). In other words, truth does not depend on a correspondence between a sign and its object but upon the inferences that we draw between signs themselves. Nevertheless, Julius suggests, we can regard our ideas as true if they lead us to the proper results, just as Columbus's calculations, mere symbols on paper, led him to the discovery of America.

Just how this general epistemology vindicates his early philosophy Julius does not explain in any detail; he leaves his reader to draw the implications. What Schiller seems to have in mind, though, is a kind of moral and regulative justification of his metaphysics. Even if our ideas are not literally true of reality in itself, we still should act upon them, because on that basis we will create a better world. This coincides perfectly with the conclusion of the theosophy: even if there is no God, even if love is not the creative force of the universe, we can create God, if we only love one another.

What Schiller is adumbrating here is a proto-Kantian doctrine: that the ideas of metaphysics have a regulative rather than constitutive, a practical rather than theoretical, validity. He is still too much in the metaphysical tradition, however, to advance such a daring thesis; hence Julius still cannot surrender the claim, which would be unpardonably ‘dogmatic’ for a Kantian, that there is a correspondence or harmony between the laws of our thinking and reality itself (126, 12–4). But in this respect, as in so many others, Schiller was preparing the ground for his later reception of Kant. The Kritik der reinen Vernunft had already been published for five years when the Philosophische Briefe appeared. It was only a matter of time before Schiller would read it. It would prove to be the deliverance Julius for which was pining.


Schiller began to read Kant after his first visit to Jena in August 1787. Jena was then on the verge of becoming the centre of Kantianism in Germany; and there Schiller (p.38) met one of its chief apostles, Karl Leonhard Reinhold. During their conversation, Reinhold proclaimed to a skeptical Schiller that in one hundred years Kant would have the reputation of Jesus Christ! Despite such naivete or hyperbole, Schiller told Körner that Reinhold spoke intelligently about Kant, and that he even aroused his interest in him.41 It was most probably Reinhold, then, who first inspired Schiller to read Kant, though Körner had been urging him to do so for some time.42

Wisely, Reinhold advised Schiller to begin with some of Kant's shorter essays in the Berlinische Monatsschrift. Although Schiller mentions only one of the essays, ‘Idee zu einer Allgemeine Geschichte in weltbürgerlichen Absicht’, he wrote that it had ‘extraordinarly pleased’ him. Schiller now sensed that his intellectual fate would be linked with Kant. It now seemed certain to him, he confessed to Körner, that he would read, perhaps even study, Kant. He then told his friend to look forward to some forthcoming books by Kant, a ‘Critik der praktischen Vernunft oder über den Willen’ and ‘eine Critik des Geschmacks’.

Still, despite a first favourable impression, Schiller was slow to develop his new interest. When Körner advised him to undertake ‘dry investigations into human knowledge’ before settling on a philosophical system,43 Schiller noted his friend's hint to take up a more thorough study of Kant. ‘I know the wolf from its howl’, he said.44 Still, Schiller doubted whether he was ready and able to undertake the trying and taxing study of epistemology. Hitherto all that had interested him in philosophical writings had been what he could use and feel as a poet.

Sooner or later, though, Schiller knew he would have to turn to such a study. In the late 1780s and early 1790s, just before the study of Kant, Schiller's metaphysical and ethical thinking remained stuck in crisis. The aporia of the Philosophische Briefe had not been forgotten, still less resolved, but only intensified. The most striking testimony about Schiller's thinking around this time appears in the short philosophical dialogue appended to his novel Der Geisterseher, ‘Das philosophische Gespräch aus dem Geisterseher’, which he wrote and published in 1789.45 Here Schiller describes the philosophy of a decadent young Prince who, after finding himself the victim of a spiritualist hoax, becomes deeply disillusioned with all morality and religion. Like Julius, the Prince makes the disturbing discovery that reason undermines all moral and religious faith. Now, however, Schiller takes the trials and tribulations of Julius a step further: where Julius was a reluctant skeptic, the Prince is a resolute free-thinker. He maintains that the beliefs in the existence of God, providence and immortality are simply projections of our human imagination; that ends and values are not inherent in the nature of things but valid only for our human consciousness; and that human freedom is an illusion arising from (p.39) ignorance of the deeper causes of our actions. The Prince expounds a completely worldly, naturalistic ethic that dispenses with all causes and values beyond this world; he finds the source and motive for all human actions within our own physical organism, in the mechanism of pleasure and pain. Since he knows nothing about what came before him, or what will happen after him—it is all hidden by ‘two black impenetrable curtains’ which no mortal has ever been able to raise—he resolves to enjoy the moment and to live only in the present. The Prince is even skeptical of patriotism, the ethic of public service or living for one's country, which was once so important to the young Schiller; he likens the social organism to Jupiter, who devoured all her own children. If there is nothing in it for him, the Prince sees no reason for doing anything at all. While it is clear that Schiller does not endorse the Prince's egoism and hedonism, it is also plain he regards it as a challenge, one for which he still has no convincing answer.

Although Schiller knew he had to address this challenge, he still did not feel ready to tackle the difficult epistemological issues. In the late 1780s and early 1790s he had been engrossed in the study of history, and it is in this field that we can detect the first fruits of his study of Kant. His Antrittsvorlesung in Jena, ‘Was heisst und zu welchem Ende studiert man Universalgeschichte?’,held in May 1789, was filled with Kantian themes. Another short essay on the philosophy of history, ‘Etwas über die erste Gesellschaft’, which was published in Thalia in 1790, acknowledges its heavy debt to Kant in a footnote.46

Schiller finally began his intensive study of Kant only in the early Spring of 1791. He would now begin to study not only the more popular essays but the three Kritiken or the critical system itself. Once again, however, Schiller deferred considering epistemological issues. The Kritik to which he first turned was not the Kritik der reinen Vernunft, which alone would address the difficult epistemological issues, but the Kritik der Urteilskraft. The reason Schiller turned to this work was essentially pedagogic. He feared Kant's Kritik der reinen Vernunft would be too demanding, and he found the third Kritik straightforward and easygoing, not least because it answered to his own longstanding interest in aesthetics. His reaction to the work is apparent from his March 3, 1791, letter to Körner:

You will not easily guess what I am now reading and studying? Nothing worse than—Kant. His Critique of Judgement … excites me with its new illuminating and rich contents, and it has created in me the greatest desire to gradually work my way into his philosophy. … I now feel that Kant will not be such an insurmountable obstacle and I will certainly now work more exactly on him. (NA XXVI, 77–8)

Although Schiller had been incapacitated by illness in the Spring of 1791, he also received a three-year stipend from Friedrich Christian von Augustenberg, Prince of Schleswig-Holstein, which freed him from his debts and allowed him to (p.40) devote himself entirely to his personal interests. This gave him the leisure to study Kant's philosophy. Hence, he wrote to Körner on January 1, 1792 about his new resolve to study Kant:

I now engage myself zealously with the study of Kant's philosophy … My resolve is irretractable not to stop until I have fathomed it, even if this should cost me three more years. Moreover, I have now got a lot from it and transformed it into my own property. (NA XXVI, 127)

As months passed, Schiller's resolve, and his labours, did not slacken. More than two years later, on July 4, 1794, we find him writing to Körner:

For some time now I have laid aside all work to study Kant. I must finally get clear about him, if I am not always to go with uncertain steps in the path of speculation. (NA XXVII, 20)

Not that Schiller found work on Kant an unalloyed pleasure. Often in the midst of it he would express his longing to return to drama and poetry. In early 1795 he would complain to Goethe bitterly about how trying and artificial philosophy could be; then, at the end of the year, he finally announced that it was ‘high time to close his philosophical shop’.47

All told, Schiller's study of Kant would occupy him for four years. From 1791 to 1795, Schiller would occupy himself primarily with aesthetics, which always involved intensive engagement with Kant. In early 1796 Schiller happily returned to poetry and drama, never to go back to philosophy. He would later regret the enormous effort Kant had cost him, writing in a bitter distich: ‘Zwei Jahrzehnte kostest du mir: zehn Jahr verlor ich. /Dich zu begreifen, und zehn, mich zu befreien von dir’.48 But we should not lay too much weight on these sentiments, which reflect Schiller's persistent lack of confidence with own work.49 After all, if it were not for the encounter with Kant, he would not have written his aesthetic essays, or, for that matter, developed his mature philosophy.

What writings of Kant did Schiller study? We know that he read closely some of the essays from the Berlinische Monatsschrift, and that he had studied intensively the Kritik der Urteilskraft. Close work on the third Kritik is evident not only from the many references to it in Schiller's aesthetic essays but also from the copious marginal comments to his copy of the book.50 It is also clear from the aesthetic essays that Schiller had read both the Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten (p.41) and the Kritik der praktischen Vernunft. There has been some question whether Schiller really read the first Kritik.51 But there is much indirect evidence that he did so. He wrote to Huber on February 19, 1795 that one should read the first Kritik before the third (NA XXVI, 142); and the first version of ‘Zerstreute Betrachtungen über verschiedene ästhetische Gegenstände’, which was written during his most intensive study of Kant in Winter 1792–3, contains a long passage that shows a mastery of the psychological doctrines of the first Kritik (NA XXI, 197–203).52 In addition to the three Kritiken, Schiller also read Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der bloßen Vernunft, though, for reasons we shall see, he was very critical of this work.53 All in all, then, Schiller had a fairly thorough knowledge of the Kantian system as a whole.

It would be a mistake to think that Schiller's knowledge of Kant was limited to his reading alone. After Schiller moved to Jena in 1789, he involved himself intensely with the many currents of discussion surrounding Kant's, Reinhold's and Fichte's philosophy. He became friends with some of the pivotal figures in these discussions, chief among them Friedrich Immanuel Niethammer (1766–1848), Johann Benjamin Erhard (1766–1827) and Franz Paul Herbert (1759–1811). In the Winter of 1792, Schiller formed a Tischgesellschaft to dine and discuss philosophy, both afternoons and evenings.54 The group was composed of some young ‘Magistern’ who were especially zealous in their study of Kant, among them Ludwig Friedrich Göritz (1764–1823), Johann Karl von Fichard (1773–1829), Batholomäus Ludwig Fischenich (1768–1831), Carl Immanuel Diez (1766–96) and Konstantin Freiherr von Stein (1772–1844). From these students Schiller not only could learn about but also take part in the many discussions and disputes concerning Kant's philosophy. It is of the first importance to locate his own philosophical writings in this context, which often illuminates their purpose and argument.


What did Schiller see in Kant? Why did he think it necessary to embark upon such an intensive study of his writings? We can explain this partly from Schiller's inner development as a dramatist and poet.55 In the early 1790s he sometimes expressed the need to get clear about the fundamental principles of aesthetics, simply because (p.42) clarity about them would make him more self-conscious and self-confident in his own writing.56 It is no accident, then, that Schiller would focus upon the first half of the Kritik der Urteilskraft, the chief exposition of Kant's aesthetics. This explains not only why Schiller turns to philosophy but also why he turns away from it. Having acquired sufficient clarity about the principles of aesthetics, he had no more reason to study philosophy; hence his return to poetry and drama in 1796.

Although this theory contains an important element of the truth, it still does not tell the full story. It is insufficient for two reasons. First, it tells us why Schiller would devote himself to Kant's aesthetics, but not why he also had an interest in his metaphysics, ethics and politics. The term ‘aesthetic writings’ is somewhat misleading, because Schiller's later philosophical essays go far beyond the merely aesthetic: they also deeply concern, and do not merely touch upon, issues in education, ethics and politics. Second, this theory explains at best why Schiller should study Kant, but not why he is attracted to any of his specific doctrines. To account for Schiller's attraction to specific doctrines, it is necessary to go beyond his concerns as a writer; we must also consider the dynamics of his philosophical development.

The ultimate reason for Schiller's adoption of Kant lies in his earlier intellectual crisis, the afflictions of the soul that he had so lyrically portrayed in the Philosophische Briefe and in Der Geisterseher. In the early 1780s Schiller had virtually abandoned his guiding faith in providence, his belief in a divinely created and governed universe. As we have already seen, this faith had been the foundation for his early ethics. It was the basis for his theory of the highest good, and the premise behind two of his cardinal doctrines: that there is a harmony between self-interest and morality, and that there is a connection between pleasure and perfection. But Schiller's own growing skepticism in the early 1780s had shaken this belief and everything resting on it. As a result, Schiller felt himself vulnerable to materialism. He had nothing to counter against a Helvétius or La Mettrie, who who would reduce all human striving down to self-interest, who would insist that the highest good should be nothing more than physical pleasure, and who would destroy freedom by making human action a necessary product of matter in motion. Such, in a nutshell, was the crisis of Julius in the Philosophische Briefe. It was a crisis all too typical of Popularphilosophie in the late eighteenth century, which had unwisely based its moral doctrines upon a very vulnerable theistic metaphysics. It was probably no accident that Reinhold, who had introduced Schiller to Kant, had suffered a very similar crisis in the early 1780s.57

(p.43) Kant came to Schiller's rescue, just as he had once done for Reinhold.58 What Schiller saw in Kant was primarily his gospel of freedom. Ever since his Karlschule years, Schiller had been deeply concerned to uphold moral freedom from the dangers of materialism, and he supported dualism primarily for this reason. Now Kant's transcendental idealism gave him a new foundation for his earlier dualism, a new basis to refute materialism and to uphold his undying belief in moral freedom. In the first Kritik, Kant postulates a dualism between the realm of noumena and phenomena that could uphold the principle of causality in the natural world while still leaving room for moral freedom. While everything in the phenomenal world would conform to the principle of causality, the noumenal world would be immune from such causality and so at least permit the possibility of transcendental freedom. The dangers of materialism arise, Kant argues, only if we must assume that appearances are things-in-themselves, or only if we hold that phenomena are the sole reality.59 But that we must not make this assumption Kant thinks he has shown by the solution to the antinomies: only if we distinguish between things-in-themselves and appearances is it possible to avoid the inevitable contradictions of reason. Kant concedes that the distinction between appearances and things-in-themselves, between noumena and phenomena, in the first Kritik had demonstrated only the possibility of freedom; but in the second Kritik he would proceed to a proof of the reality of freedom by an appeal to the ‘fact of reason’, i.e. that we are aware through the moral law that we have a power to act independent of the causality of the phenomenal world.

For Schiller, Kant's argument did much more than save freedom from the snares of materialism. More importantly, it promised a new foundation for morality, one completely independent of the old theistic metaphysics, and one which rests upon nothing more than the idea of human freedom itself. In the Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten, Kant had argued that the fundamental principle of morality, the categorical imperative—‘Act only on that maxim that you can will as a universal law of nature’—rests upon the autonomy of the will, the idea that the rational will alone is the sole source of the law. To be moral is to will a universal law as a rational being; it is to adopt only that maxim for one's actions that one could impose on oneself as a rational being.60 Hence Kant taught Schiller the crucial lesson that moral principles are not given to us—whether by God or the laws of nature—but that they are created by us. To find the source of our moral principles outside us—in either the will of god or in the law of nature—is only another kind of heteronomy, an hypostasis of the forms of reason.

(p.44) That Schiller was inspired by Kant's gospel of freedom there cannot be any doubt. In his February 18, 1793 letter to Körner he wrote in some famous lines: ‘Surely, no mortal has spoken greater words than these Kantian ones, which are the content of his whole philosophy: Be self-determining! … This great idea of self-determination radiates back to us from certain appearances in nature, and these we call beauty’ (NA XXVI, 191). This idea was indeed a central theme of Kant's world history essay, the very writing that first sparked Schiller's interest in Kant in the first place. In that essay Kant makes the self-realization of freedom the very purpose of history itself. Although Kant does not dispense with the idea of providence, it is striking that he makes the purpose of providence nothing more than the development of human autonomy. The third proposition of the essay states that man should partake of no other happiness or perfection than that which he creates for himself according to his own reason.61 A very similar theme appears in another of Kant's early essays, ‘Mutmaßlicher Anfang der Menschengeschichte’, which would later inspire Schiller. There Kant proposes reading Mosaic history as a parable about the discovery of human freedom. The significance of man's expulsion from the garden of Eden, Kant argues, is that he learns for himself the difference between good and evil, and so takes a crucial step toward the development of his own autonomy. This was just the theme Schiller explored in his 1790 essay, ‘Etwas über die erste Menschengesellschaft’. The lesson behind the Genesis myth, Schiller explains, is that we must now learn to recreate for ourselves the happiness and tranquility that was once given to us in the state of nature. But the real end of history, it turns out, is not so much the recreation of happiness and tranquility but the realization of human freedom in the eternal striving to recreate them.

The net effect of Schiller's reading of Kant in the early 1790s was nothing less than a revolution in his ethical thinking. The revolution was as broad as it was deep. Where Schiller's early ethics placed the source of moral obligation in the laws of nature and divine providence, his later Kantian ethics would locate that source in the laws of the rational will alone. Where his earlier ethics attempted to connect moral duty and self-interest, his later Kantian ethics would stress moral principle as the sole motive for moral conduct. Where his earlier ethics saw the general happiness as the fundamental law of morality, his later Kantian ethics would find this law in the categorical imperative alone. And where his earlier ethics would stress the importance of love and benevolence as the basis of moral action, his later Kantian ethics would replace naturally good sentiments with the moral law. A more complete and sweeping reversal is scarcely imaginable!

That Schiller had now converted to the fundamental principles of Kant's moral philosophy there cannot be any doubt. In his December 3, 1793 letter to Prince von Augustenberg he stated explicitly and emphatically that he now endorsed wholeheartedly the fundamental principles of Kant's ethics (NA XXVI, 322).62 (p.45) He made it plain that he followed Kant in making duty the fundamental motive for moral action, and in seeing reason alone as the chief source of moral obligations. Of course, this does not mean that Schiller had now become a dyed-in-the-wool Kantian; for, as we shall later see, there were some important differences between his ethics and Kant's, and these become more important with Schiller's later development (4.6–7). However, Schiller's Kantian confession to Augustenberg also makes it plain that Kant did not simply confirm his old convictions, or that Schiller simply twisted Kant to fit his own earlier agenda.63 For once Schiller accepted these fundamental Kantian theses, he could no longer hold onto most of the central doctrines of his earlier ethics: that the source of the law lies in providence, that pleasure and perfection are necessarily connected, that love is the basis of morality, and that the end of life is the creation of spiritual perfection. To be sure, Schiller had begun to doubt these doctrines on his own; but he still could not bring himself to reject them, let alone provide a new foundation for them. It was Kant who provided that foundation, and in doing so he forced Schiller to jettison the fundamental doctrines of his earlier ethics.

This account of Schiller's appropriation of Kant has some important implications for the general interpretation of his philosophy. It shows that Schiller's thinking was deeply transformed by Kant in a non-metaphysical direction, and that it is a serious mistake to interpret his mature philosophy as a kind of metaphysics, whether in a Platonic, Leibnizian-Wolffian, or proto-Hegelian direction. While Schiller's philosophy was still deeply metaphysical in the Philosophische Briefe, it became liberated from the burden of metaphysics after Schiller's encounter with Kant. It was Kant who taught Schiller that ethics and aesthetics could be autonomous disciplines, based on a non-metaphysical foundation, independent of the traditional doctrines of natural law, providence and perfection. After his study of Kant in the early 1790s, Schiller strongly endorsed and strictly applied Kant's strictures about metaphysics; he was very aware of, and scrupulously observant of, Kant's distinction between regulative and constitutive principles. Hence in the Kallias Briefe he insisted time and again that we must not treat freedom as an objective property of the sensible world, and that we must proceed only as if freedom were true of appearances; and in the Aesthetische Briefe he insisted that his own account of the unity of a person is purely transcendental, involving no metaphysical speculations about the ultimate source of our powers.64 It is of the utmost importance to see that Schiller's concept of beauty, and his doctrine of the unity of reason and sensibility, are really only imperatives, regulative ideals or goals for (p.46) action; they are not metaphysical principles, attempts to describe some deeper underlying reality. In one form or another, the various metaphysical interpretations of Schiller commit the classical confusion: they conflate a regulative principle with a constitutive one, contrary to Schiller's express warnings.

Now that we have considered Schiller's early encounter with Kant, we have come to the threshold of his mature philosophy. It is now time to cross that threshold and to examine that philosophy itself.


(1) On the Karlschule see Ernst Müller, Der Herzog und das Genie: Friedrich Schillers Jugendjahre (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1955), 25–128; and Robert Uhland, Geschichte der Hohen Karlschule in Stuttgart (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1953). On the philosophical and intellectual background of the Karlschule, see Reinhard Buchwald, Schiller (Wiesbaden: Insel, 1953) I, 181–98; Benno von Wiese Friedrich Schiller (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1959), 53–95; Wolfgang Riedel, Die Anthropologie des jungen Schiller (Würzburg: Königshausen und Neumann, 1985); Peter-André Alt, Schiller (Munich: Beck, 2000), I, 113–34, 141–50; and Arthur McCardle, Friedrich Schiller and Swabian Pietism (Berne: Lang, 1986), 71–98.

(2) This point is difficult to dispute, even for those who otherwise stress Karl Eugen's enlightened policies and benevolent intentions. It is notably conceded by Uhland, Geschichte, 75, who admits that it is ‘eine nicht abzustreitende Tatsache’ that Karl Eugen could be ‘bisweilen äußerst despotisch’. Müller is too one-sided in stressing solely the liberties allowed in the Karlschule. See Herzog und Genie, 63–4, 86. For a critical assessment of Uhland and Müller, see T. J. Reed Schiller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 6–12.

(3) On instruction in philosophy in the Karlschule, see Müller, Herzog und Genie, 36, 48, 91; and Alt, Schiller, I, 113–35.

(4) Alt, Schiller, I, 119.

(5) On the tradition of philosophical medicine at the Karlschule, see Riedel, Anthropologie, 11–37.

(6) For more detailed accounts of Abel's influence, see Buchwald, Schiller, I, 184–98, 204–13; and Alt, Schiller, I, 141–50. On Abel's philosophy, see Wolfgang Riedel, Jacob Friedrich Abel, Eine Quellenedition zum Philosophieunterricht an der Stuttgarter Karlschule (1773–82) (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 1995), 377–450.

(7) For texts and commentary, see Riedel, Abel, 181–236, 552–75.

(8) This is the estimate of Buchwald, Schiller, I, 198.

(9) For translations and commentaries on the early dissertations, see Kenneth Dewhurst and Nigel Reeves, Friedrich Schiller: Medicine, Psychology and Literature (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978).

(10) Schillers Leben Dokumentarisch, ed. Walter Hoyer (Berlin: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1967), 37.

(11) When Schiller had to propose topics for his dissertation in 1780 it is noteworthy that he proposed discussing questions of freedom and morality. See ‘Themata zu einer Streitschrift’, NA XXI, 124.

(12) On this work and its significance for the Aufklärung, see Riedel, Anthropologie, 166–73.

(13) Locke, Essay concerning Human Understanding, Book II, chap. xxi, §55; and Hobbes, Leviathan (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968), 126, 160, 490–1.

(14) See Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times (London: Purser, 1732) II, 225–6.

(15) For this text and commentary, see Riedel, Abel, 51–60, 487–90.

(16) All references in the text are to Schillers Werke, Nationalausgabe, ed. Julius Petersen et al. (Weimar: Böhlausnachfolger, 1943f), abbreviated ‘NA’. Roman numerals indicate volume numbers, arabic numerals page numbers, and italicized arabic numerals line numbers.

(17) See Adam Ferguson, Institutes of Moral Philosophy (Edingburgh: Kincaid & Bell, 1769). Schiller knew this work in the translation of Christian Garve, Grundsätze der Moralphilosophie. Uebersetzt und mit einigen Anmerkungen versehen von Christian Garve (Leipzig: Dyck, 1772). The crucial passage states: ‘the affection of a mind enlighened to conceive what is the object and what the efficacy of God's providence is, of all others, most pleasant, and approaches most to an entire exemption from pain’ (154). Schiller gives these lines an emphasis and importance they do not have in the original. Here he follows Garve, who in his Anmerkungen declared this passage to be ‘Eine der schönsten Stellen des Fergusons’ (408–9).

(18) On this doctrine and its importance for the Aufklärung, see Riedel, Anthropologie, 156–76.

(19) The immediate source was most probably Ferguson, who states in the Institutes that ‘the fundamental law of morality’ consists in ‘the love of mankind’ (170–1, 174). Ferguson is reaffirming Francis Hutcheson, who claims that all morally worthy actions stem from ‘Love or Benevolence’. See An Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (London, 1729), 116, 118. Hutcheson is in turn developing some suggestions of Shaftesbury. See Shaftesbury, The Moralists in Characteristicks II, 137–8, who writes about a ‘mystical love’ for all mankind and nature.

(20) See Riedel, Anthropologie, 176–182.

(21) This point is the central theme of Steven Martison's interdisciplinary study, Harmonious Tensions (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1996). The same point, in a somewhat different context, has been stressed by David Pugh, Dialectic of Love: Platonism in Schiller's Aesthetics (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1996), 15–6, 68. Both Martinson and Pugh emphasize– rightly, in my opinion–how Schiller's thinking attempts to achieve unity amid difference. Their account agrees with the assessment of Wilhelm von Humboldt, who, in his commemorative essay on Schiller, ‘Ueber Schiller und den Gang seiner Geistesentwicklung’, stated that the distinctive characteristic of Schiller's thinking was his attempt to wed holistic and analytical thinking. See Werke in Fünf Bänden, ed. Andreas Flitner and Klaus Giel (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1969), II, 360.

(22) On this doctrine and Schiller's critique of it, see Riedel, Anthropologie, 91–3. In his Abel, 445 n184, 511–2, Riedel traces this doctrine back to Christian August Crusius. There is indeed a clear affinity. See Crusius, Entwurf der nothwendigen Vernunft-Wahrheiten (Leipzig: Gleditsch, 1745), §§364, 402. It is noteworthy that the young Kant too was a critic of Crusius's doctrine. See Träume eines Geistersehers, AA II, 319–23. This suggests that Kant's and Schiller's dualism was forged against a common opponent.

(23) See J. F. Abel, Einleitung in die Seelenlehre (Stuttgart: Meztler, 1786), §§32–3, 18–9. Although Abel published this work after Schiller's stay in the Karlschule, he had most probably formulated it earlier. His Dissertatio de origine characteris anima (Stuttgart: Cotta, 1776) already stresses the physical basis of representation and the influence of physical causes in mental development. See §§11, 32, 8–10, 27 (Riedel, Abel, 148–9, 167).

(24) In his Grundzüge einer Geschichte der deutschen Psychologie und Aesthetik (Würzburg: Stahel, 1892), Robert Sommer argued against the prevalent Kantian interpretations of Schiller and stressed the importance of Herder's organic worldview for Schiller's early and late philosophy. See pp. 367, 373, 378, 387, 391, 430–1. Yet Sommer overlooked the evidence for Schiller's early dualism.

(25) G. E. Stahl, Theoria medica vera (Leipzig: Voss, 1831–3), I, 43, 234. On Stahl's theories and their reception in the Karlschule, see Riedel, Anthropologie, 24–5, 48–9; and Dewhurst and Reeves, Schiller, 95–6, 112–3.

(26) This is the interpretation of Buchwald, Schiller I, 247; Jakob Minor, Schiller: Sein Leben und seine Werke (Berlin: Weidmann, 1890), I, 248–50; and Benno von Wiese in his commentary in the Nationalausgabe, XXI, 117–31.

(27) See De discrimine febrium, NA XXII, 33, 38. Regarding Schiller's treatment of Stahl, see Riedel, Anthropologie, 6–8. It is unclear on what evidence Dewhurst and Reeves base their view, Schiller, 195–6, that Schiller was influenced by Stahl in his treatment of psychosomatic disorders. Such an interpretation does not agree with the critique of Stahl in Versuch, NA XX, 69–70.

(28) Hamlet, Act I, Scene v, 166–8. Schiller cites the maxim in De discrimine febrium in a similar context. Cf. NA XXII, 34 and XX, 13.

(29) Henry More, The Immortality of the Soul, in A Collection of Several Philosophical Writings (London: Morden, 1662), I, 20.

(30) On this tradition in Germany, see Riedel, Anthropologie, 61–93.

(31) Who was Julius? Of course, he need not represent any specific historical person. However, we can legitimately ask: What person in Schiller's life best fits the role of Julius? There is no unanimity in the literature. Buchwald thinks that it is Abel, Schiller I, 203, which seems to me the most plausible hypothesis. Alt, Schiller I, 101, suggests that it is Schiller's friend Albrecht Friedrich Lempp. Von Wiese surmises that it could be another early friend, G. F. Scharffenstein, NA XXI, 152. One might think that it is Körner, who takes the role of Raphael in writing the last letter of the Briefe. See NA XXI, 156–60. But this is implausible, given Schiller's surprise that Körner did this. See Schiller to Körner, April 15, 1788, NA XXV, 40.

(32) This is the suggestion of Alt, Schiller, 250.

(33) See Emil Wilm, The Philosophy of Schiller in its Historical Relations (Boston: J. W. Luce, 1912), 87.

(34) Alt maintains that Resignation already marks Schiller's turn to a purely immanent and this-worldly ethical system because of the famous lines ‘Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht’ (NA I, 168, v.95). See his Schiller I, 250. However, the Weltgericht here could be an allusion to the Christian idea that the good and the evil receive their deserts only with the second coming of Christ.

(35) See NA I, 61–3, 81, 86–7, 96–7.

(36) On this concept in the early poems, see von Wiese, Schiller, 122–5.

(37) On the basis of very circumstantial evidence Benno von Wiese has argued that much of the Briefe, and indeed almost all of the ‘Theosophie’, was written much earlier than 1786. See NA XXI, 150–1 and his Schiller, 98–9. His evidence consists in the following points: (a) the similarity of some phrases and sentences between passages in the ‘Theosophie’ and Schiller's April 14, 1786, letter to Reinwald; (b) the poems in the Briefe correspond with those Schiller wrote for the Anthologie auf das Jahr 1782; (c) the subtitle to Die Freundschaft, written in 1782, is ‘Aus den Briefen Julius an Raphael, einem noch ungedruckten Roman’. It should be obvious, however, that none of these points show, as von Wiese claims, that Schiller actually wrote the text of the ‘Theosophie’ before 1786; they show at most that he had conceived some of the ideas for the Briefe. Von Wiese admits that the main evidence for his thesis rests in the similarity in ideas between the ‘Theosophie’ and the early Karlschule philosophy; but it is precisely here that one must pause to question his thesis, for the content is not the same and in some places there are contradictions. Von Wiese himself has to admit that the section ‘Aufopferung’ was written much later, around the time of the Don Carlos. See NA XXI, 153.

(38) Sommer, Grundzüge, 373, 377, 378.

(39) Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene ii, 134–5.

(40) The sources of this epistemology were the Scottish philosophy of common sense. Its germ is in Ferguson's Institutes, 86–7. Ferguson was in turn going back to the doctrines of his teacher, Thomas Reid. See An Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense ed. Derek Brookes (University Park: Penn State Press, 1997), chap. VI, secs. vi, xxix, 90–5, 190–1. Abel was a defender of the Scottish philosophy of common sense. See his Theses philosophicae (Stuttgart: Cotta, 1776), whose Thesis I reads: ‘Vera philosophia est philosophia sensus communis quam, e.g. Reid pluresque Angli sequuntur’. See Riedel, Abel, 31.

(41) See Schiller to Körner, August 29, 1787, NA XXIV, 143.

(42) See Schiller to Körner, ibid.

(43) Körner wrote the last letter of Raphael to Julius in the Philosophische Briefe, which Schiller published in Thalia, 1789. See NA XXI, 156–60.

(44) See Schiller to Körner, April 15, 1788, NA XXV, 40.

(45) NA XVI, 159–84.

(46) Schiller's footnote: ‘It is probably necessary only for the fewest readers to remind them that these ideas arose on the occasion of the Kantian essay in the Berlinische Monatsschrift,’ NA XVII, 398.

(47) See Schiller to Goethe, January 7, 1795, NA XXVII, 116; and December 17, 1795, NA XXVIII, 132.

(48) ‘You cost me two decades: I lost ten years to understand you, and ten to liberate myself from you.’

(49) See Schiller to Goethe, July 1, 1795, NA XXVII, 116.

(50) See ‘Vollständiges Verzeichnis der Randbemerkungen in Handexemplar der Kritik der Urteilskraft’, in Materialien zu Kants Kritik der Urteilskraft, ed. Jens Kulenkampff (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1974), 126–44.

(51) See, e.g., E. C. Wilm, ‘The Kantian Studies of Schiller’, Journal of English and German Philology 7 (1908), 133.

(52) Schiller refers to Kantian concepts that come from the first Kritik alone and not only Kritik der Urteilskraft §26, which has been seen as the main source of his reflections.

(53) See Schiller to Körner, February 28, 1793, NA XXVI, 219.

(54) See Schiller to Körner, January 1, 1792, NA XXVI, 128.

(55) See Kuno Fischer, Schiller als Philosoph (Leipzig: Fues, 1868), 4–8.

(56) See, e.g., Schiller's February 9, 1793 letter to Friedrich Christian von Augustenberg, NA XXVI, 184–5.

(57) See Reinhold's essay, ‘Ueber das bisherige Schicksal der kantischen Philosophie’, Der teutsche Merkur II (1789), 3–37, 113–35.

(58) It was the central thesis of Reinhold's Briefe über die kantische Philosophie that only Kant's philosophy could resolve the conflict between reason and faith. Reinhold argued that by extending the powers of practical reason, Kant had provided morality and religion with a foundation independent of metaphysics. Whether Reinhold had prompted Schiller's conversion to Kant is speculative; but the similarity in their predicaments is striking.

(59) See Kritik der reinen Vernunft, A 379, A 383, B 418n.

(60) See Kant, Schriften, Akademie Ausgabe, ed. Wilhelm Dilthey et al. (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1902), IV, 431–2. (Henceforth references to this edition will be abbreviated as AA.)

(61) Kant, AA, VIII, 19–20.

(62) See further below, 4.2.

(63) Pace Pugh, Dialectic of Love, 22, 113, and Helmut Koopmann, ‘Bestimme Dich aus Dir Selbst: die Idee der Autonomie und Kant als problematischer Umweg’, in Friedrich Schiller, ed. Wolfgang Wittkowski (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1982), 202–16. (See further below, 7.1.)

(64) See Kallias Briefe, February 8, 1793, NA XXVI, 180; February 23, 1793, NA XXVI, 200, 208–9. And Aesthetische Briefe, NA XX, 371, 9–20; 372, 19–26; 356, 18–20. See also Schiller's letter to Körner, October 24, 1794, NA XXVII, 70–1, where he states that beauty is ‘kein Erfahrungsbegriff, sondern vielmehr ein Imperatif’.