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YSCHILLER Report Summary

Project ID: 626638
Funded under: FP7-PEOPLE
Country: United Kingdom

Final Report Summary - YSCHILLER (The Philosophy of the Young Schiller (1773-1789). Education, Sources, and Issues)

The project is devoted to Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805), one of the most prominent intellectual figures between Enlightenment and Idealism, and a key figure of the so-called ‘Age of Goethe’. Schiller was educated as a physician, wrote some important historical works and is universally known as a poet and a dramatist, particularly as the author of the ode which would serve as the basis for Beethoven’s 'Ninth Symphony' and of the plays later transformed into librettos for Verdi’s operas. Clearly, not only German identity, but also the Italian and European identities owe him an immense debt.

Yet Schiller’s contribution to Western culture includes philosophy as well. Schiller was in fact highly interested in philosophy, and particularly in the philosophies of his time, to which he devoted a number of crucial essays. In the 1790s he committed himself to studying and commenting on Kant’s works and ideas, especially focusing on ethics and aesthetics. This absorbing interest in Kant has become a mixed blessing for posterity’s image of Schiller, though, providing him access to the realm of philosophy once and for all, yet only to a very limited extent. In other words, Schiller has been welcomed as a valuable interlocutor for historians of philosophy committed to investigating the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries; however, he has never gained the status of a ‘real’ and ‘pure’ philosopher, being on the contrary dismissed as a dilettante lacking any skills and knowledge. As a consequence, Schiller ‘the poet’ has always been considered a naïve and episodic guest in the field of philosophy, rather prone to misunderstandings and inconsistencies.

The main aim of the project is to redress this picture, which is to be acknowledged as the outcome of long-standing clichés and prejudices rather than of scrupulous study, and vindicate Schiller’s stature as an independent and autonomous philosopher. This will be possible by challenging the usual ‘dual pattern’ binding Schiller to Kant exclusively, which will in turn be best realized if the focus shifts from Schiller’s Kantian writings to his early thought. Accordingly, the time span considered is 1773-1789, covering Schiller’s first exposure to philosophy during his education, his early plays, poems, novels and essays until his Jena lectures, which are heavily influenced by Kant.

The project consisted of the following three stages:

• Education. Schiller was admitted to the Stuttgart Karlsschule, a former military academy later transformed into a university, in 1773, receiving his degree in medicine in 1780. During this period he was also taught philosophy, which was then conceived of as the grounding for all further professional (including vocational) training. The project reconstructed Schiller’s acquaintance with philosophy over these eight years with particular attention to his philosophy professors and the courses he attended. Both print and manuscript materials were examined enabling an unprecedented awareness of the wide spectrum of topics Schiller was made familiar with.
• Sources. Both during and after this education at the Karlsschule Schiller gained an impressive amount of knowledge in philosophical matters, ranging from the German Enlightenment to the European traditions, particularly the French and British/Scottish ones. As for the former, Spalding, Sulzer, Abbt, Mendelssohn, Jerusalem and Garve emerged as the figures appealing to Schiller the most; as for the latter, materialists such as La Mettrie and Helvétius as well as moral-sense theorists such as Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, Ferguson, Hume and Smith turned out to be the most crucial sources, affecting Schiller’s views in a number of fields (anthropology, psychology, religion, ethics, and aesthetics). Schiller’s attitude towards all of these authors was anything but passive or one-sided, revealing independent judgement, as well as a deep awareness of the Enlightenment claims for intellectual autonomy.
• Issues. Over the sixteen years preceding what is usually considered his ‘official’ introduction to philosophy, Schiller showed particular interest in some specific ideas and issues, which are as follows: the (un)reliability of love as a grounding principle for morals; the untenability of religion and metaphysics; the aporias of the enlightenment process, particularly regarding its intersubjective dimension; the emerging problem of aesthetic autonomy. All these aspects point directly to Schiller’s later convictions, proving the continuity of his thought and, a fortiori, his being anything but a malleable reader of Kant.

Each of these three stages converges in delivering a complex and nuanced image of Schiller’s early thought as a crucial contribution to (German) philosophy per se, and in consequently supporting the image of Schiller as an autonomous philosopher independent of any external influence, particularly Kant’s.

Moreover, the consideration of different literary genres as equally valid contributions to philosophy served as a general rule over the entire duration of the project with a view to rehabilitating poetry from still enduring prejudices questioning its philosophical rigour. Schiller’s poems, plays (both in prose and in verse) and novels were given the same credibility as treatises and essays, which helped restore poetry to its status as an alternative, yet anything but inferior way of doing philosophy.

The major results achieved are thus as follows:

• Appreciation of Schiller’s education and consequent acknowledgment of Schiller as a completely ‘equipped’ philosopher;
• Reconstruction of Schiller’s major sources and acknowledgement of his belonging to the tradition of the Enlightenment;
• Identification of Schiller’s contribution to philosophy well before and beyond his first encounter with Kant and consequent acknowledgment of his stature as a philosopher independently of the latter’s impact;
• Consideration of poetry as a mode of philosophy and acknowledgment of Schiller’s identity as a poet-philosopher as a totally credible qualification, rather than a pejorative classification.

These final results are of crucial relevance to both scholarship and a wider audience.

Within academia, the most important outcome will be a crucial canon reassessment, following the introduction of Schiller as a standard author in philosophy rather than an episodic guest to be seen as a sort of epiphenomenon of Kantianism. This will impact the fields of German literature and philosophy. In the long term, this will also affect cognate areas such as Foreign and Comparative Literatures, where other poet-philosophers are still awaiting due re-evaluation. In some cases, Schiller in particular might prove extremely important as a source for other figures committed to both philosophy and poetry – Samuel Taylor Coleridge is a case in point.
Outside academia, there are two different levels of impact, both addressing all layers of society. First, Schiller may be introduced into textbooks and teaching programmes of philosophy in secondary schools; second, a new understanding of poetry as a laboratory of ideas may be established. In both cases, current views about poets and poetry will in the long term be reassessed and give rise to a new vision.
In as well as outside scholarship, a new paradigm is in the making.

For any queries please contact the Fellow: Dr Laura Anna Macor,


Gill Wells, (Head of European Team)
Tel.: +44 1865 289800
Fax: +44 1865 289801
Record Number: 196663 / Last updated on: 2017-04-05
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