Starting with letter 20 in On the Aesthetic Education of Man (1795), we tell more of the story of how art is supposed to get us from sensation to thinking. This continues from part one and ultimately from ep. 318.
As a Romantic, Schiller’s aesthetic theory is very central to his take on epistemology and human nature. For Kant (whose aesthetic theory Schiller is working off of), Beauty is related to conceptual thinking in that it engages our faculty of conceptualization but without specific concepts. so the faculty “plays.” This makes aesthetic appreciation a sort of by-product of our ability to know things. Schiller switches these elements around: Instead of the presence of conceptualization making aesthetics possible, we need aesthetic capabilities first, as an initial step in forming concepts at all. Appreciating beauty is more fundamental for us than abstract thought!
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Animals, for instance, engage in play activities not (as a Darwinist would say) as survival activity, but as a superfluity, as something extra that their situation allows them, something not tied directly to getting food and propagating (though it may of course still have benefits in training them to do these things better, but it doesn’t have to). Every play activity of this type is proto-artistic, and these activities free us from merely paying attention to sensation and open us up to abstraction (though animals of course likely don’t get all the way there).
Do you think this argument works? Also, how does encouraging us to focus on forms and appearances make us actually care more about real, autonomous human beings?
Schiller describes Beauty as our “second nature” that makes us fully human. It also brings us together, in that through art we can grasp others’ points of view.
Next Episode: We’re reading further into the Romantics for the next couple of episodes in the volume Theory as Practice: A Critical Anthology of Early German Romantic Writings, this time focusing on Friedrich Schlegel’s essays “Concerning the Essence of Critique” (1804) the “Speech on Mythology” from his Dialogue on Poesy (1799), and some of his fragments published between 1797 and 1801 in the magazines Lyceum der Schonen Kunste, and the one he ran with his brother, the Athenaeum.