Read On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters by Friedrich Schiller Free Online
Book Title: On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters|
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The author of the book: Friedrich Schiller
Edition: OUP Oxford
Date of issue: April 1st 1983
ISBN 13: 9780198157861
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 19.41 MB
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Aesthetics is the branch of philosophy addressing beauty, taste, art and the sublime. After studying what philosophers have to say on this topic, it is refreshing to read the philosophical reflections on aesthetics by Friedrich Schiller (1769-1805), a man who was not only a first-rate thinker but a great poet and playwright. And Schiller tells us he is drawing his ideas from his life rather than from books and is pleading the cause of beauty before his very own heart that perceives beauty and exercises beauty's power.
Writing at the end of the 18th century, Schiller reflects on the bitter disappointment of the aftermath of the French Revolution where an entire society degenerated into violence. What can be done? As a true romantic, he sees beauty and art coming to the rescue.
Schiller writes how idealized human nature and character development is a harmonizing and balancing of polarities - on one side we have the rational, that is, contemplative thought, intelligence and moral constraint and on the other side we have the sensual, feeling, physical reality. Lacking this balance, harmony and character, Schiller perceives widespread disaster for both lower and higher social classes, that is, people of the lower classes living crude, coarse, lawless, brutal lives and people of the higher, civilized classes are even more repugnant, living lethargic, slothful, passive lives. Not a pretty picture, to say the least.
We might think scientists or hard working business people might stand a better chance at achieving balance, harmony and character. Sorry; the news is not good here either. Schiller writes, "But the predominance of the analytical faculty must necessarily deprive the fancy of its strength and its fire, and a restricted sphere of objects must diminish its wealth. Hence the abstract thinker very often has a cold heart, since he analyzes the impressions which really affect the soul only as a whole; the man of business has very often a narrow heart, because imagination, confined within the monotonous circle of his profession, cannot expand to unfamiliar modes of representation."
So, what must be done to restore a population's needed balance, harmony and character? Again, for Schiller, beauty and art to the rescue. One key idea in making beauty and art a central component of people's lives is what he terms `the play drive'. Schiller writes: "Man plays only when he is in the full sense of the word a man, and he is only wholly man when he is playing" By play, Schiller doesn't mean frivolous games, like a mindless game of cards; rather, play for Schiller is about a spontaneous and creative interaction with the world.
To flesh out Schiller's meaning of play, let's look at a couple of examples. In the morning you consult your auto manual to fix a problem with the engine and then in the afternoon you examine a legal document to prepare to do battle in court. Since in both cases you are reading for a specific practical purpose or goal, according to Schiller, you are not at play. In the evening you read Shakespeare. You enjoy the beauty of the language and gain penetrating insights into human nature. Since your reading is not bound to any practical aim, you are free to let your imagination take flight and explore all the creative dimensions of the literary work. According to Schiller, you are "at play" and by such playing in the fields of art and beauty, you are free.
And where does such play and spontaneous creativity ultimately lead? Schiller's philosophy is not art-for-art's sake, but art for the sake of morality and freedom and truth. If Schiller could wave a magic wand, everybody in society would receive an education in beauty by way of art, literature and music. And such education would ultimately nurture a population of men and women with highly developed aesthetic and moral sensibilities who could experience the full breathe and depth of what it means to be alive. Or, to put it another way, with a restored balance, harmony and character, people would no longer be slaves to the little world of their gut or the restricted world of their head, but would open their hearts and directly experience the fullness of life. And experiencing the fullness of life, for Schiller, is true freedom.
How realistic is Schiller's educational program as a way of transforming society? Perhaps being realistic is not exactly the issue. After all, Frederick Schiller was an idealist. He desired to see a society of men and women appreciating art and beauty and having their aesthetic appreciation color everyday behavior, so much so that their dealings and activity in the world would serve as a model of noble, moral conduct for all ages. Not a bad vision.
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